NZ International Film Fest review: Ants on a Shrimp

Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo played previously at the Berlin and Hot Docs festivals
Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo played previously at the Berlin and Hot Docs festivals

"A normal person doesn't understand what we're doing," one of Rene Redzepi's chefs proclaims in Ants on a Shrimp.

Normal people might not really get this film either, unless they have a deep interest in the fine dining industry and the craftsmanship required to rise to the top of it.

From that point of view, Ants on a Shrimp is certainly a detailed study of the mind of a chef. The documentary chronicles the weeks leading up to the opening of restaurant Noma in Tokyo in 2015.

The weeks-long popup - though it seems trite to call it that when a restaurant repeatedly named the world's best is involved - saw Redzepi relocate his entire staff from Copenhagen to the Japanese capital.

It was an intense experience, which is well-captured in the film and enhanced by layered soundtrack, which ebbs and flows perfectly in sync with the narrative.

Redzepi, the driving force, is a tough and unbelievably blunt teacher, but also fair and clearly well-respected by his chefs.

He leads a band of merry men (yes, all the seniors in his team bar one appear to be male) across Japan; sniffing, touching and eating almost everything in sight on their quest to find precisely the right ingredients.

Their approach seems so far removed from reality - these are the kinds of chefs who'll applaud each other for deep-frying fish sperm or seeking out individual trees with just the right flavoured branches.

Ants on a Shrimp is less about food and more about the intellectual processes of discovery and creativity. It's very conceptual, with food the vehicle for something much bigger than just what ends up on a plate.

The end result is not entirely satisfying. At best, food is a multi-sensory experience; on screen it's treated more as a secondary prop. It may be an accurate reflection of reality, however it affords the audience few opportunities to assess or appreciate the fruits of the arduous processes.

There are very few Masterchef-style glamour shots to be seen. Instead, Ants on a Shrimp is visceral and not at all sugar-coated.

In the first such scene, one chef casually discusses Japanese prostitution as he's swiftly ending the life of a turtle. Consider yourself warned.

Three stars.

Reviewed by Kim Choe/Newshub.

This film is playing as part of the 2016 New Zealand International Film Festival.

     Ants on a Shrimp:: Director: Maurice Dekkers:: Rating: Exempt:: Running Time: 8 minutes


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