A real feast for the eyes, John Daschbach's Come Back Anytime (2021) is a beautiful documentary that consistently delivers the goods with its messages of self-sustainability, as well as the ways in which food can craft long-lasting relationships.
Set in Tokyo, Japan, this realist documentary follows the life of elderly chef Ueda Masamoto alongside his childhood sweetheart Kazuko. The pair run a small ramen bar in the middle of Tokyo, which Daschbach often cuts to wide-angle shots of. Whilst shrouded by the skyscrapers around it, it’s the type of tucked-away, culinary gem that tourists would only dream of stumbling upon.
Bizentei (the name of their restaurant) opened in 1979, Ueda holding a cookery book in one hand and a dream of becoming something special in the other. Daschbach’s work charts the couple’s highs and lows throughout the last 40 years, ultimately leading to a successful business in the present day. Masamoto focuses his cuisine on soy-based ramen noodles, enhanced by a simplistic broth that intensifies with flavour throughout the night. Much like this soul-warming concoction, relationships at Bizentei are similarly strengthened over time, slowly simmering and maturing. You can’t help but be invested in the relationships of locals that visit the restaurant, as the camera is always lurking in the middle of conversations occurring over the bar—an unobtrusive eye but also one that keeps the viewer at the very heart of all the action. This documentary is also fairly communal, as a series of interviews between locals and director Daschbach are intercut throughout, giving us insight into local thoughts of the Masamotos and their unique noodle creations. Many even address Ueda as ‘Master’ or ‘Taishō’, seeing him as the creator of all ramen creators. It’s truly heartwarming to see how much Masamoto’s food means to the locals, further amplified by ambient kitchen sounds, setting the scene for Bizentei as a place to relax after a long day’s work in the city.
In typical Japanese fashion, the documentary is episodic in nature, quite literally ordered by nature as we run through spring, summer and winter at the restaurant. This idea has previously been seen in staples of Japanese cinema such as Yasuiro Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) and Early Summer (1951). The beauty of nature is something highlighted in Come Back Anytime as Daschbach’s handheld camera takes us to the rural fringes of Tokyo. This is where Ueda likes to grow fruits and vegetables on his own farm; from apples to runner beans, pears to cabbages. Ueda is a true forager at heart; he is also pictured discovering things in the undergrowth of Japan’s forests, such as wild yam. These rare foraging finds are then brought back to Bizentei where Ueda shares precious treasures with his dearest customers and friends. Careful close-ups show off Ueda’s creations in all their glory, the camera then panning to show a customer’s delight as they grab their chopsticks and get to work.
Ueda and Kazuko may be old in age, but they are content in their work and happy to continue their regular ramen wonders for those that appreciate them. Ueda even addresses the audience at one point, saying: “people come because it’s comfortable, right?”. That’s all anyone wants out of a good restaurant: a comfortable meal. Whether or not Bizentei will continue to thrive further down the line is unknown, but one thing’s for certain: it’s a special place of sanctuary, and diving into one of Ueda’s bowls of soup is like a warm hug that can last forever.
'Eat The Screen: Films to Feed Conversations About Food' is running at Barbican Cinema from 1st July to 24th August 2023. For more information about the programme and other upcoming seasons at Barbican, go to their website or follow them on Twitter.
Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor