FILM REVIEW: Tokyo DragonChef

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Yoshihiro Nishimura

If only this were Tampopo with tattoos. Instead this surreal and silly comedy about two gangster brothers trying to go down the straight and narrow by opening a ramen restaurant in Tokyo is a little, like the noodles they sell, soggy.

Tatsu has just finished his latest spell in prison. He is a yakuza, a Japanese gangster, but his brother has different plans. Ryu suggests that Tatsu puts to use the cooking skills he learned in jail and that the two of them open a Chinese restaurant. With the help of YouTubers who vlog about the special dishes the brothers make, their enterprise is soon a success with queues of people lining the blocks waiting to get in.

However, Tatsu and Ryu can’t quite escape their past as another two ex-yakuza open a stall right across the road offering food that looks even better on social media. And, to make things worse, an old enemy of Tatsu’s returns to seek revenge. The plot sounds simple, but director Yoshihiro Nishimura is not content to let this tale of triumph over adversity run smoothly.

For a start there is song and dance, usually rock ‘n’ roll numbers extolling the taste and quality of the food. They are deliberately odd and yet can anyone resist the lyrics ’Ramen Amen Lalala Ramen’? And then there is the talking tattoo on Ryu’s back which tells the brothers which dishes to make. Crayfish curry anyone?

One of the YouTubers is supposedly an alien, and Tatsu’s nemesis has men working for him who dress up as eyes, looking less like Cyclops and more like the mascots of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The final battle dispenses with swords and guns and replaces them with condiments and sieves. These peculiarities won’t be to everyone’s taste.

There’s still a certain charm and good-heartedness to this wacky low-budget movie, and Yasukaze Motomiya and Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi as Ryu and Tatsu acquit themselves well, basically being the straight men calmly watching the craziness that begins to engulf them.

Apparently Nishimura has a reputation for quirky films and while Tokyo DragonChef may please his fans, it’s doubtful whether it will bring him any new ones. It’s harmless enough fun, but you won’t be asking for more.

Available on DVD and online from 25 January 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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