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April 01, 2010: Review of “The Ramen Girl”

April 1, 2010

Being out of touch with the world, as I am these days (no TV, usually not playing the radio, etc.) I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day, scanning the tabloids, and was shocked to see that Brittany Murphy had passed on. Old news to the rest of the world, but being a fan of her roles, both the edgy and the comedic, I was momentarily stunned. I decided to revisit one of my favorite movies of hers: “The Ramen Girl.”

Brittany plays Abby, a girl who has moved to Toyko to be with her boyfriend. The boyfriend turns out to be a real sleezeball (why is it that I never trust James Spader in films or anyone who even looks like him?) and abandons Abby. As Abby’s sole purpose for being in Japan is to be near the boyfriend, she’s a fish out of water in a foreign land, language, and culture (yes, it’s OK to make a “Lost in Translation” comparison here).

Forced for the first time to seek her personal raison d’être, in her depression, she is drawn to a local ramen shop. She is taken in by the owners and shown initial kindness by them. Observing the ramen chef’s Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida) skill and level of attention making the ramen, she is both soothed and intrigued. Revisiting the shop the next day, she is again served a bowl of ramen and has a kind of magical and transformative reaction to the food, because the chef has especially prepared it for that result (yes…done before in “Chocolate” and “Simply Irresistable”  amongst others, but never gets old for me) and she decides that she want to be a ramen chef.

What follows is a gruelling apprenticeship with the cantankerous and sometimes even abusive ramen chef, that is exacerbated by their inability to communicate to one another. The chink in chef’s tyrannical armor is his son who has run off to be a chef in Paris. Abby discovers this and uses it to fight back. Reaching a kind of accord, the chef finally tries to teach Abby the fundamentals of his craft, but continually fails. He attempts to have the one person he respects, his mother, try to break through. Here, I won’t give away the wisdoms the mother imparts, but suffice to say they are the most fundamental aspects of cooking, to the point that the proud and obstinate chef bows and humbly thanks his mother for her reminding him of his essential purpose.

Throw in a little romance ( a new one, from a Japanese man that she has met) a little competition from a rival ramen chef (…and yes, a little of “Karate Kid here) and a cast of loveable side characters, and you have a very rounded, sweet, and enjoyable film with a few life lessons.

The ramen chef, while humorous, is a reminder of what every mentor should NOT be (an anti-Yoshio, as it were.) It is always good to be reminded  (the lessons from the mother) of  the raison d’être of what a good chef should be. The care and perfectionism of the craft of cooking and how important they are to translate into the food, was apropos. The technical expertise vs. originality (going “off recipe”) I thought to be an important message. I found the “magical” elements, and a few of the side characters (the non-Japanese friends) a little extraneous, but not ultimately detrimental. It was great to see Brittany in the lighter moments of the film. She looked like she had a good time filming. As one of her last films, I hope that was the case.

Perhaps nothing totally original in this film, but we keep retelling the same stories for a reason. The Ramen Girl”  is good film about finding what you love, finding the right mentor, and following the correct path.

One caution however: after seeing “The Ramen Girl”  you may never want “instant” ramen ever again.

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3 comments

  1. Ahem..almost everyone born from 1969 and up were raised (from whence each child attained the age of 6 or older) on “Ooodles of Noodles’ a.k.a. ramen. Our youngest daughter can bring real tears to anyone’s eyes as she describes her days living in a house being totally renovated…with no kitchen ( at all) ; the exception of ONE electric frying pan…placed carefully on a kitchen chair , where she daily prepared her OOOdles after school .”things ain’t cookin’ in my kitchen” (Crowded House, band circa 1990)

    She is now a cook extraordinaire, cultivating her very existence from seed to table.

    And ramen is still purchased and eaten weekly us!!


    • Kathy, far be it from me to denigrate anyone’s comfort food! And such loyalty too! No, they have their place. [Mine is a Mama Celeste personal size veggie can’t beat the price at $1.00/per, but I add some extra spices and pepper jack to jazz it up…having one right now as a matter of fact!] and boy do they comfort!

      No, this movie is about a completely different kind of ramen altogether. Try to Netflix or rent the movie. I bet you would enjoy it! Last time I checked, the ramen off the shelf (as comforting and cheap as they are) do not fulfill how ramen is described in the movie:

      “Ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, mountains, and the earth all existing in perfect harmony.”

      Thanks for your comments!


  2. Oh, Kathy knows about real ramen, because another of her daughters is obsessed with it. 🙂 Steve, I hope you can persuade Yoshio-san to investigate the secrets of Sapporo-style miso ramen for me, someday! (And if you ever make a trip to NYC, I will take you on a ramen tour of the East Village!)



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