It’s long been said that the best sports movies aren’t actually about sports, and the same can be said for food-based films, maybe even more so. It’s the people behind the dishes and the stories behind each recipe that compels an audience.
This couldn’t be more true for Come Back Anytime where we follow a year in the life of ramen master Masamoto Ueda and his wife, Kazuko Ueda. Together they run Bizentei, a quaint ramen shop in Tokyo. Director John Daschbach interviews the Ueda’s and many of their customers who wax lyrical about the food and hospitality, but especially the sense of community among them.
Masamoto discusses how becoming a ramen chef and creating Bizentei with his wife helped him focus his life after struggling with a gambling addiction in his youth. We accompany Masamoto to his garden allotment outside of the city where he grows organic plants and vegetables, and his camping trip with buddies where he farms for wild yams. Daschbach paints the portrait of a man who found something he’s good at, put his efforts and energies into it, and now leads a very content life.
Come Back Anytime will remind many of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but I think it’s worthwhile to draw comparisons to WeWork: Or, The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn — a documentary about the creation of WeWork and co-founder Adam Neumann’s rise and fall.
The differences between Masamoto and Neumann are night and day. Neumann had/has grand aspirations of changing the world and creating his legacy for the history books. Every decision he made was in an effort to build wealth and fame, which eventually became his undoing.
Masamoto, on the other hand, never had ambitions for Bizentei to become more than what it is. No goals to franchise, to create a ramen empire, and certainly no desire to make himself a public figure. There’s also no indication that ramen is Masamoto’s true calling or a burning passion in his life. Rather, it’s something he came upon that he was good at, and he spent his life getting better at it. Bizentei was always a means to an end, as Kazuko says in the film, “We see Bizentei as a one-generation restaurant. It existed to support our family and that’s it.”
In a world consumed with amassing wealth and getting our 15 minutes of fame, the Ueda’s are a breath of fresh air. Their story is a reminder for us to stay in the present and be grateful for the spoils in life we have, whether that be family, friendship, or a perfectly crafted bowl of ramen.
Come Back Anytime isn’t a documentary that looks to make a controversial statement or argument, it’s simple storytelling done really well. Daschbach does a tremendous job, not only as director but as cinematographer and editor, as well. The shots of the food are luscious and he got some wonderful stories from the Ueda’s and their customers/friends. There is also a beautiful jazz score by Michael Shaieb that adds to the cozyness of the subject matter.
Come Back Anytime is a warm blanket and a big hug. It is the documentary version of tucking into a bowl of hot ramen on a cold winter’s night.
Come Back Anytime is in Toronto theatres now.