Before We Vanish by Sean Gilman Film

Ramen Shop | Eric Khoo

March 22, 2019

A young man heads to Singapore in search of his mother’s family after his father, a successful ramen chef, dies. Gauzy flashbacks fill in his parents’ backstory in-between meetings with his estranged uncle and grandmother; his Chinese mother married his Japanese father against her own mother’s wishes, a hostility that was the result of lingering hatred for the Japanese following their occupation of the city-state during World War II. Just as resentments and hatreds were passed down through the generations, so too were recipes, taught from parent to child, and adding personal touches learned through individual life experiences. The cuisine of Singapore, with its influences from throughout East and South Asia, as well as Europe, is the blunt instrument of metaphor in Eric Khoo’s quiet but still pretty maudlin melodrama.

The young man’s journey is as much about learning the recipes of his mother’s family as it is reconciling himself to the past atrocities of his father’s homeland. English serves as the lingua franca, bridging the gap between ancient hatreds, facilitating the fusion of Japanese ramen (itself a combination of Japanese flavors with Chinese noodles) with Singaporean pork rib soup (a combination of Chinese soup with Southeast Asian flavors). As a vision of transnational solidarity dramatized by a Japanese person’s trip to Singapore, Ramen Shop is vastly more conventional and less interesting than Daisuke Miyazaki’s Tourism, also playing at this year’s Japan Cuts. But the food, at least, looks much better.

Published as part of Japan Cuts 2018.