By James Shaw (The Windup Geek)
and Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
E: The enjoyment of eating ramen noodles will vary per individual, and before I can say James and I went to another Japanese restaurant, we instead decided to check out one of his fond classics. I’m more tempted to say Kamen Rider than Neko Ramen Taishō ( 猫ラーメン) given all the live action Japanese superhero television shows I have seen. Neko Ramen seems no different than watching Sesame Street when there’s a puppet as the protagonist.
I have to ask: Is this film supposed to be about food? Give me the movie Tampopo to watch instead.
J: Let’s face it, our main character is made of foam rubber, but is soft and cuddly. William Thomas Jefferson III is a failure in his father’s eyes who would like nothing better than for his son to follow in his footsteps as a cat idol. But hawking moist cat food isn’t on the menu for William. Fallen from grace he tries his hand at odd jobs meeting dismal failure with each. At his wit’s end, he is rescued by a Ramen noodle chef with few words and plenty of wisdom for our cat to consume.
E: The moral in this tale is about simplicity. It is a bit inspired from the movie that I already mentioned and I guess you can toss in Ratatouille as well. I got some amusement while watching this film with James, but I wouldn’t call the production stellar. I recall the early days of anime fandom where newcomers were asking where are the character’s eyes? They’re either saucer-shaped or a single line stroke. In this case, with the cross-eyed puppet design. What the heck is Jefferson III squinting at?
J: Maybe he was squinting at one of the female judge’s breasts breasts. They certainly seemed to be the joke of the film as it explored (as much as I hoped it wouldn’t) the area of low brow humor. You should leave the filth jokes to the British. It sounded better from Rik Mayall’s mouth then it did here.
As low production as it is, the cast at least were adequate and they didn’t take themselves too seriously. How serious could you be when the star of the film has a hand up the puppet’s backside?
E: I’ve seen better puppet shows than this movie from the likes of Jim Henson, but obviously this film does not aspire towards that direction. Japanese culture is unique and they do some crazy surrealist comedies from time to time. Granted that this movie is based on a manga, I assume it did not have a lot of source material to evolve beyond it. It delivers a simple message about what it takes to be a culinary genius in the kitchen, but that’s not enough to make this movie inspiring.
J: The puppet shows in Japan are better than this film. Maybe if they had NHK backing them like Hook Book Row, rods could have been used instead of shaking WTJ III from side to side for action scenes.
E: At least the wide-angle shots made for some interesting moments when full body shots of our hero are animated like a marionette. I actually appreciated those scenes a lot more than the close up shots, where the puppetry was amateurish. I couldn’t suspend disbelief at all for this flick, and all I have to do is to somehow show James some true Japanese cinema instead of what he suggested as recommended viewing.
J: Both the Japanese and Canadians are known for their weird cinema. I was prepared. I found this film to be an enjoyable little romp. It was like a drunk man’s attempt to pick a lady up at the bar. You can’t help but watch the entertaining farce but after a while, this product is just creepy. You’re left wondering what the hell just happened.
I’ve watched a lot of Japanese cinema from weird to wonderful but it still doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a little foolish film like this one. Not only did it make me hungry, but also it teaches people to appreciate the need for ramen by the everyday Japanese worker. If you want a film that teaches you a better appreciation for the meal, then check out Ramen Girl, but for now, I’d say this movie is the start to an appetizing journey.
3 Stars out of 5