Taishoken is a name synonymous with tasty, quality ramen. What started as one tiny shop in an inconspicuous suburban Tokyo location, grew to be a powerful brand. The man responsible for the original creation is Kazuo Yamagishi – aka ‘The God of Ramen’. My review of the documentary showing as part of the Japanese Film Festival, is after the jump.
Kazuo Yamagishi is a charasmatic, disciplined man who is dedicated to making cheap, tasty ramen. His goal is to make sure that his customers always leave his shop satisfied and full. He only makes one type of ramen, which has come to be known as ‘Taishoken’ (which is the shop’s name) and isn’t interested in fussy, trendy ramen. While others have replicated his flavours and used his name freely (Yamagishi did not franchise his brand), people travel from all over Japan to line for hours in hope of having one of the original creations.
The documentary follows Yamagishi and the shop over an approximately 10 year period. While the ramen are what people queue to eat, there is no doubt that Yamagishi’s always smiling, cheerful nature is part of the experience and appeal. However, behind the smile, Yamagishi is hiding immense pain. When the filmmakers try to probe into the reason for the state of the shop and the presence of blocked of rooms, they are met with pain. We learn that his dilapidated shop has remained unchanged since his wife’s death many years earlier. Yamagishi reluctantly, but openly, shares his pain and grief in an honest way that is rare for a Japanese man. The pain of delving into the closed off rooms which hide the past is too much. His consistent routine is his connection to a happier time, long past.
We meet many of Yamagishi’s apprentices and learn of his immense generosity towards anyone who wanted to learn. Hundreds have come and gone through the years, some profiting with businesses which bear the Taishoken name. He refers to his apprentices as his children and takes pleasure in their success. This is a humble man who does not care for financial gain, only for making ramen. Yamagishi’s need to make ramen sees him ignore crippling health problems until it is almost too late. For a man who has known only one thing, stepping back is incredibly difficult.
The God of Ramen is a heat-warming documentary. Yamagishi is such a generous, charismatic man, that it’s hard to believe the pain he hides behind his beaming smile.
By Sam McCosh.
The God of Ramen screens as part of the 17th Japanese Film Festival. For information about session times, please visit the official festival website: http://japanesefilmfestival.net/jff_movie/the-god-of-ramen/
Director: Takashi Innami
Producer(s): Akira Nishimura, Toshihiro Yamada
Runtime: 90 minutes