I’ve always been in awe of people who find passion and focus in what they do and documentaries have only broadened my curiosity and admiration. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the opposite side of that spectrum. To do something repeatedly day after day and to have that routine has never been something I’ve thrived on. But secretly, it is a dream. Someday, I hope to find that clear purpose in life and feel that inner peace knowing what I do can impact others in a positive light. I take comfort in learning about others who have discovered their calling like ramen master Masamoto Ueda and his wife Kazuko who have been serving his legendary Tokyo-style ramen for over forty years — and the focus in the documentary COME BACK ANYTIME.
The film offers a glimpse into the life of this humble ramen shop and its loyal following. Masamoto’s tiny-ramen shop, Bizentei, serves richly satisfying and comforting bowls of noodles to customers. But what makes this story endearing is learning how he’s built a community of not only regulars but also a circle of true friends.Bizentei first opened in 1979 seating nearly to 30 people. Located in Chiyoda (aka Chiyoda City) area of Tokyo, the ramen shop became popular faster than expected and that gave Masamoto the motivation and confidence. It took only six months for him, and his wife, to build up the shop’s reputation and popularity.
But life was not always on a positive track. In the film, Masamoto spoke candidly about being a challenging teen who knew nothing about life. When he met Kazuko they had only dated for less than year before deciding to get married. A year later they brought a daughter into the world. They were still young. He reflected on his lifestyle back then and how he worked at coffee shops and night clubs. It was his father-in-law who suggested they try something different. With a vacant restaurant available it was worth a try.Masamoto is a self taught ramen chef. He created his broths based on a book he had read. From the basic ingredients he explored, tweaked and played with flavours adjusting to what he liked the best. His philosophy? If you want to try something, just do it. Whatever it may be and the more you care for something, the better the results.His broths quickly became much loved and the customers were faithful. One customer describe Bizentei ramen as more akin to street food style with umami that gradually gets richer as the broth boils down throughout the day. Another says the soy based ramen on the menu is a favourite that is “just like how mom made it” – with flavours from their childhood. Kazuko says his ramen recipes were consistent, simple (just like him) and offered a gentler taste and yes, they eat it everyday.
What’s his secret? It all boiled down to the ingredients. He has his own garden but he also forages on days off. Wild mountain yams anyway?While his wife stays at home on their days off and tends to her own “me time” painting, Masamoto would get out of the city to harvest the ingredients — he would invite his regular customers to join and head to his garden plot in Chiba Prefecture or the bamboo forest nearby to dig up fresh shoots.
The film also tells the stories of the customers and their heartfelt reasons for their loyalty to Masamoto and Kazuko. It’s not just a ramen shop to enjoy the comforts of in a bowl of tasty noodles — it’s a place where everyone feels welcomed and they’ve all become great friends.But the ramen master admits that he’s getting older and now he cannot help but think about the future and their retirement. There is no one to hand off the ramen shop business to but he’s okay with that. When it’s over, it’s over but for now he gets joy out of what he does.
As for his customers? They say they will respect his decision and will understand when the time comes to close the doors. In the meantime, his door is always open and the ramen will be waiting.
How beautiful is that?
COME BACK ANYTIME is directed by Tokyo-based filmmaker John Daschbach. For screening information visit the official site here.
Here’s the trailer: