COME BACK ANYTIME

Reporting from the Denver Film Festival.

For 40 years, Masamoto Ueda has been slinging ramen noodles across his counter. He offers about four different bowls, half-dozen side dishes, and that’s it. His restaurant, Bizentei, seats about six at the bar and maybe a half-dozen tables on the second floor. Most of the customers are regulars, and they keep Ueda and his wife busy from morning to night. Not that they mind, this is their business, and this is their life, and they’re pretty pleased with the results.

Come Back Anytime is a documentary about Ueda and his noodle shop, which is currently in business but won’t be when he decides to hang up his chopsticks. “This is a one-generation business,” Ueda says.

Shot over the course of four seasons, Come Back follows Ueda throughout his day, preparing the food and serving his customers. Many have been coming for years; one couple met at the noodle shop, married, and are still together. Between these day-to-day moments, Ueda reflects on his troubled youth and gambling days, puttering around his expansive garden, and traipsing off into the mountains to pick bamboo shoots, forage for wild yams, and pick some of the most delectable pears I’ve ever seen.

Everything in Come Back Anytime looks delicious beyond description—this is not a movie to watch on an empty stomach. Director John Daschbach enjoys watching Ueda cook but refrains from pornographic close-ups of sauces pouring and fat rendering. He sticks close to Ueda, but not so close you feel in the way. Michael Shaieb’s music accompaniment follows suit: Light piano jazz that makes you feel like you’re sipping a highball inside a quiet nightclub. It’s not sensual; it’s sustaining. As one customer points out, he’s been coming to Bizentei’s for years, and yet he’s only ever tried the chashu ramen. He knows that if the chashu is good, surely everything else is. But, when the chashu’s this good, why settle for anything else?

Come Back Anytime will play the Denver Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 4:15 p.m. Also available on DFF’s virtual platform until Nov. 14.