If it takes time to become acquainted with a person in any meaningful way, then a bowl of noodles needs to be raised for John Daschbach. After spending an entire year filming a master ramen chef, the Tokyo-based filmmaker’s latest film Come Back Anytime beautifully captures the feeling of finally getting to know someone.
Stepping into the world of Bizentei ramen
And who does John – and the audience – get to know? Welcome to the world of Ueda Masamoto, a master noodle maker who has been running his Bizentei ramen bar in central Tokyo for 40 years. Once a distracted young man swayed by easy thrills, this pillar of his noodle community has matured from an overworked perfectionist to an open-hearted beacon of smiles and good will.
The noodles served in the film are a clear side dish to the main story. The master’s version of Tokyo’s classic soy sauce-flavoured ramen topped with tender chashu pork has been on the menu for so long, its quality is a given. But when a 40-year Bizentei bar veteran, with a tear in his eye, tells the camera that “somehow it sustains me,” everyone knows it’s not the food he’s talking about.
Not that things were always perfect for the master but the audience soon learns that Ueda-san has heart. Some of his struggles are brought to light and in his own words, “it’s strange to say but the difficulties were kind of fun.” The result is a bowl of experience that his regulars dip into constantly. “You have a place here,” is all the advice he needs to give to one long timer suffering from personal loss. Ueda-san is more than a noodle expert.
Ramen is at the heart of a community
Community matters and regular outings with the master and his patrons are a feature of the film. From picking giant pears from a customer’s orchard and collecting wild yams and bamboo shoots in the mountains to helping the master weed his own little farm with homemade organic pesticides, the film’s experiences are rich with a vibrant sense of normality. When people care, everyday life can be good.
“If you want to replicate the experience of getting to know someone, especially in Japan, you’re not going to get that the first time you visit,” says Daschbach, adding, “but over time you will and so that is how I structured the film.” And it works. By the time the credits roll by, nobody is dreaming about ramen. Instead, Come Back Anytime has nudged the viewer into a gentle Japanese reminder of what ought to be meaningful in our lives, one classic bowl of delicious ramen at a time.
BIO: After living in Japan for over a decade, Sleiman Azizi earned his residency and now writes as a Japan travel writer. He has published hundreds of articles for some of Japan’s leading English-language publications and travel sites including Metropolis, Tokyo Weekender and Japan Travel KK, as well as several English-language books inspired by classical Japanese literature.