It begins not in Japan but in my town, New York City. As the song goes “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”, but Kyosuke Matsui (Bayside alumni Yosuke Santamaria) isn’t coming close to making it. He moved to the Big Apple six years previously to be a stand-up comedian (the most famous Matsui in NYC he claims – a reference to the Yankee outfielder Hideo Matsui) but his comedy is pretty bad and his heavy English accent is even worse leading him to finally give up his dream and return home. Home is Sanuki in the prefecture of Kagawa – the smallest one in Japan and not known for much of anything besides Udon noodles. It has more Udon eateries per person than any place in Japan – some 900 in total. Kyosuke’s father runs one of these and always wanted his son to take it over someday but Kyosuke had run as far as he could from Sanuki and noodles. Now he is home and his father (Katsumi Kiba) grudgingly notes his presence, but his sister Mari (the very recognizable Suzuki Kyoka – Samurai Commando 1549, Blood and Bones, Zebraman) and her husband welcome the sheepish fellow back into the family fold.
Kyosuke gets a job at a local magazine along with his old friend, Shosuke (Tortoise Matsumoto) and the adorable Kyoko (Manami Konishi – Bayside Shakedown 2,) a self-confessed bookworm with no sense of direction who can get lost in a store (I identify with this all too much!). Trying to increase circulation, Kyosuke hits on the idea of featuring the many Udon restaurants in Sanuki and as the three friends madly dash around trying to find them all – often known only to the local neighbors and often with no identifying signs – they become obsessed with Udon noodles. Each place differentiates their noodles with loving care and long held family secret recipes – no faceless always the same taste chains here. The magazine starts an Udon noodle craze that goes countrywide with thousands of people pouring into the area to try the various places.
In an odd way though one senses that all this is almost delaying the real story implicit in the set up and finally towards the end Kyosuke feels the need to reconcile with his father and decide what to do with his life. For this viewer there was perhaps too much focus on noodles and not enough on the relationships of the characters – with an expected romance never taking off – but it is full of low-key humor and touching moments and an overall feeling of warmth and goodness – kind of like Campbell’s soup – or maybe Udon Noodles.
The film was shown last year at Cannes and the producers brought over a chef to set up an Udon shop for audiences. The chef was none other than the brother of the director who is in the Udon business in Kagawa.
My rating for this film: 7.0