'Ants on a Shrimp': Film Review
The "best restaurant in the world" takes its cuisine to Japan.
Access doesn't guarantee insight in Ants on a Shrimp, Maurice Dekkers' look at a 2015 project in which Noma, the locavore eatery often lauded as the "best restaurant in the world," transplanted itself from Copenhagen to Tokyo. A surfeit of behind-the-scenes footage is presented here, with too little concern for its storytelling value; in a time of plentiful lush and/or enlightening food docs, only viewers who idolize Rene Redzepi and his talented crew need pay attention to this one.
When he decided to move his restaurant's staff to Japan for a five-week residency at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Redzepi's idea was not simply to present his greatest hits to a new audience; it was to practice his location-sensitive aesthetic there, imagining new dishes that made use of Japanese ingredients and traditions. But Dekkers postpones this most intriguing part of the project, kicking his film off with a long stretch of the kind of exhausted navel-gazing one can find in any doc about an ambitious restaurant. "We are all just a bunch of freaks," one cook tells us, while a pastry chef admits (without much regret) that her personal life is "totally empty." Viewers who know anything about restaurant life won't need this.
A core group of chefs moved to Japan in advance to brainstorm and test dishes. Ants observes as Redzepi swoops into town 15 days before opening night, sampling each of their creations and deciding that they've played it too safe. His gentle but firm critique of the new menu may have some built-in drama, but the doc makes little use of it, and gives us little sense of how it fits in the overall project. When we jump to footage of Redzepi's earlier trips to Japan, where he foraged for mushrooms and toured fish markets with his collaborators, we feel ill-equipped to judge how well they lived up to his goal of "freefall into a new culture."
Food porn-y footage is nearly nonexistent here. Even at the end, when the doors finally open for the restaurant's first service, plates are delivered to entranced customers offscreen, with still publicity photos of finished masterpieces like the eponymous live-shrimp dish offered in place of more cinematic images.
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Production companies: BlazHoffski, Dahl TV
Director-screenwriter: Maurice Dekkers
Producers: Dan Blazer, Nelsje Musch-Elzinga
Executive producers: Marc Blazer, Maurice Dekkers
Director of photography: Hans Bouma
Editor: Pelle Asselbergs
Composers: Nicolas Jaar, HalfdanE, Shigeru Umebayashi
In Dutch, English, and Japanese
Not rated, 92 minutes