Masato is at loose ends. The son of a Cantonese mother who died young, he has trouble connecting with his Japanese father, with whom he works side by side in the family’s popular ramen shop in the orderly city of Takasaki.
When circumstances conspire to make Masato — played by Takumi Saito — even more rootless, he decides to visit Singapore, where his beloved mother grew up, and where he’s been following a burgeoning, delicious-looking food scene by way of a blogger named Miki. Soon, Masato is reconnecting with long-lost family members, taking in the sights, smells and tastes of a culture that is both familiar and alien, and coming to grips with fraught personal and political memory, the latter having to do with the brutal Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II.
That’s a lot to cram into a movie as modest as “Ramen Shop,” in which filmmaker Eric Khoo pays homage to the history, customs and cultural layerings of his native Singapore, here represented as a pluralist palimpsest of enticing fragrances and flavors. Think of the alluring street-food sequence of “Crazy Rich Asians” turned into a feature film, and you have an idea of the voluptuous vicarious pleasures on hand: the aroma of Masato’s grail, a version of pork-rib soup that he wants to mix with traditional Japanese ramen (which itself was a Chinese hybrid), fairly wafts off the screen throughout a series of shots carefully staged for maximum mouthwatering beauty.
For all of its foodie appeal, however, “Ramen Shop” is a wispily sentimental enterprise, full of perfunctory transitions, maudlin plot twists and awkward time shifts between past and present. Despite lively performances from Seiko Matsuda as the irrepressible Miki, and Mark Lee as one of Masato’s uncles, “Ramen Shop” is a relatively conventional melodrama. From a culinary perspective, though, it’s a toothsome glance at some of the richest foodways on the planet. If you go, eat first.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains nothing objectionable. In Japanese, English, Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles. 89 minutes.