May 17, 2007|
The Japanese can start a craze over anything mundane. Katsuyuki Motohiro’s “Udon” captures this uncanny ability at both its most admirable and its most tedious. The film takes a commonplace dish that an entire nation’s been snacking on for a millennium, and then depicts said nation suddenly going batty over it like nothing before, and the result comes across as all too believable. Whether it’s likeable comes down to your own persuasions about udon, quirky Japanese humor, and overstretched melodrama.
“Udon” is set in Sanuki, Kagawa, a sleepy small town that nonetheless boasts the highest percentage of udon restaurants in Japan. Kosuke (Yusuke Santa Maria) is a failed comic who returns from the US. His father isn’t particularly keen to see him after he abandoned the family business long ago, and Kosuke himself isn’t particularly keen to have anything to do with the udon trade. After joining a flagging local magazine, however, he notices that precious little ink has ever been spilled about Sanuki’s countless udon shops. With the help of two friends, he quickly makes it the centerpiece of the magazine, and soon ignites a feverish obsession with Sanuki’s udon that begins to draws pilgrims from all across the country.
Motohiro’s latest offering works fine as a comedy for the first half, but ultimately falls short of previous efforts (the “Bayside Shakedown” films). It ends up chockfull of sentimental mush, with Kosuke’s journey proving an emotional one that naturally comes full circle back to his father – and taking a long time to get there at that. Again, different audiences have different thresholds for such tripe, but after a good two hours and fifteen, I’d had more than my fill of “Udon.”