Culinary movie, not rated, in Japanese and Mandarin with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
There must be a quiet little street in heaven where the cinemas show food movies, and nearby restaurants serve dishes to match. Down at the corner is a market where you can pick up simple and exotic ingredients on your way home to try out a few recipes for yourself.
Singaporean director Eric Khoo tosses his toque into the ring with a sweet melodrama that threads a story of family, love, and loss through fragrant kitchens, plates of food, and bowls of ramen. Masato (an appealing Takumi Saito) is a young chef who works with his widowed father Kazuo (Tsuyoshi Ihara) in their ramen shop in Takasaki, Japan. After a tragedy, Masato journeys to Singapore, the land of his birth and the homeland of his deceased mother Mei Lian ( Jeanette Aw), to search for family, answers, and a recipe.
The holy grail of his recipe quest is bak kut teh, the pork rib soup that has risen from humble beginnings as a poor person’s street fare to a foodie’s delicacy. To get to the secret of that dish, Masato must find his long-lost maternal uncle Wee (Singaporean comic and filmmaker Mark Lee), who now runs his own restaurant and is keeper of the pork rib culinary flame. Helping him in his search is Miki ( Japanese pop idol Seiko Matsuda), a food blogger whose online video triggered Masato’s interest in the dish.
The movie wanders back and forth between the present and the past, where we witness the courtship of Masato’s Japanese father and Singaporean mother, their sweet, hesitant romance carried on mostly in English because of the language barrier. And we get hints, later fleshed out, of a terrible rift that estranged Mei Lian from her truculent mother (Beatrice Chien).
Masato has never met his grandmother, and when he gets Uncle Wee to introduce him, things do not go well. Relations are exacerbated when Masato gets drunk and pounds on Granny’s door. But he then does a little research into the background of the family problem, which involves a trip to Singapore’s war crimes museum and a quick education on the horrific atrocities of the Japanese occupation during World War II. And he makes an overture to heal the breach the best way he knows how: by creating a recipe that bridges the cultures by combining their classic dishes, pork rib soup and ramen.
It’s a sentimental journey, but the cast plays it beautifully, and the many cooking scenes create a delicious highlight reel along the way.