Like the richly flavorful broth it so heartily showcases, Death and Ramen is a delicious blend of genre filmmaking with a whole lot on its mind. Ramen cook Timmy (played by Bobby Lee) makes a dire decision to end it all over irreconcilable grievances, but when his efforts fail, he’s paid a visit by none other than Death himself (Matt Jones). What comes after is a trippy, contemplative exploration of existence that operates seamlessly between darkness, sincerity, and utter hilarity. The short is set to make its debut at the Oscar-qualifying Palm Springs Shortfest.
Timmy’s failed attempt at taking his own life summons the Grim Reaper, who is understandably left scratching his head over what to do next with a ramen chef whose life is very much in limbo. The two eventually wind up at Timmy’s ramen shop to enjoy one last meal, and wouldn’t you know it, the titular dish is on the menu for the evening.
Writer/director Tiger Ji makes this admittedly familiar premise work to everyone’s benefit, expertly layering a narrative that, at face value, is a supernatural celebration of life’s enormity and a taboo dispersing piece on suicide, once you dig a little deeper. It doesn’t lecture and most certainly doesn’t force itself upon the viewer, but it manages to throw around very real concepts about our time here – and just how precious it is. And it does all this in less than 15 minutes.
Lee and Jones have this uncomfortably enjoyable chemistry that only two experienced actors can conjure up in such a short amount of time. While it’s easy to make the assumption that a seemingly omnipotent being like Death would provide the philosophical part of the equation, Ji’s screenplay allows for potent two-way traffic, as Timmy has quite a few ideas to perplex, and even teach, the Taker of Souls.
Leave it to a ramen chef and Death to lead you on a path to the afterlife, and you’ll be delighted, and even a little moved, by what Tiger Ji and his team of creatives have cooked up. There’s a little bit of everything here for everyone, so it’s best to sit back and enjoy it – while it lasts.