Cup noodles are Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's cup of tea.
"A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountains, and the earth—all existing in perfect harmony."
The one skill every college student graduates with is the ability to cook ramen. Of course, it's just instant ramen; you boil hot water, maybe even in the microwave, pour it in, wait a minute, and stir.
Hey! If you only know instant ramen, you haven't really been using your noodle. In The Ramen Girl, an American woman learns about the real thing and the quest for that perfect harmony of noodles, broth, and flavors. The credits even acknowledge a "ramen advisor." I guess that means Brittany Murphy, who stars and served as co-producer, was using her noodle.
Facts of the Case
Abby (Brittany Murphy, Sin City) has just moved to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend, taking a dull job proofreading signs like "Out of Order. Please don't flash the toilet" at a law firm. Naturally, the boyfriend needs his space and decides to move to Osaka just after she arrives.
One rainy night, depressed Abby wanders into her neighborhood ramen shop. The place is closed, but chef Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida, Get Up!) and his wife feed her to get rid of "the lunatic." She returns, watching the chef fussily make his broth, and eventually decides she wants to make ramen. Maezumi reluctantly becomes her "sensei." At first, he's trying to chase her off with cleaning duties and other menial tasks, but as she shows her determination, he's ready to make her a ramen pro. He's got reason to be grumpy, though. His son could have followed in his footsteps and become a ramen master, but is merely a French chef in Paris.
Meanwhile, Abby meets Toshi (Sohee Park, Chameleon), a Japanese man who studied in L.A. and dreams of becoming a rock star despite his "pencil pusher" job reality.
Can Maezumi get Abby's ramen into shape for a visit from the Grand Master, or will she drop out of ramen school to join Toshi on his overseas posting in Shanghai?
At first glance, The Ramen Girl looks like a typical romantic comedy, but it never lets romance be the focus of Abby's life. In the end, although there could be romance in her future, it's her love of noodles that is rewarded. It's also telling that Abby's transformation is clear, but it's internal. Brittany Murphy looks like a ragamuffin Cinderella as she's scrubbing out toilets at the ramen restaurant, with sad eyes, baggy overalls, and a generally sweaty, grimy, exhausted look. When she wins over Maezumi and eventually gets her success, you can see it in her face, but somehow she's still that ragamuffin.
While she may be too obvious as the abandoned girlfriend early on, apparently a result of compressing the movie to fit a lot of story points in, Murphy excels as the feisty "ramen girl." She works hard and is growing, but Abby can still stand up for herself when Maezumi pushes too hard. In fact, Abby and Maezumi seem to communicate best by yelling and mocking each other. Toshiyuki Nishida makes an excellent sparring partner, showing his tender side even as he constantly boils over. The movie becomes a duet of sorts between Murphy and Nishida, but it's hardly a romantic comedy coupling.
Even in the romantic moments, the movie's focus stays on ramen. This has got to be the only movie where a guy takes a woman to the International Ramen Museum on their first date—and she likes him for it! Even the Tokyo scenes, particularly the street festivals at the beginning and end, seem to emphasize Abby's quest. There's very little here that's just a picture postcard.
If you hate subtitles, you probably won't like The Ramen Girl. There's a lot of subtitled Japanese dialogue here. The conversations in Japanese help to emphasize that Abby doesn't always know what's going on because of the language gap, but viewers aren't left in the dark.
I've got a screener, but aside from the intentional logos and markings to prevent piracy, I've got no complaints with the way the movie looks or sounds.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At times, The Ramen Girl seems to run just a little too fast, like there were some key scenes cut. If so, I'd like to see them, at least as extras.
The movie, headed straight to DVD, isn't rated yet. I'd guess the final version will be PG-13, thanks to the occasional bedroom scenes. It's a 2008 movie because it did see release in Russia, IMDb says.
Try to skip the trailer, which comes up first on my copy. It tells a little too much of the story; it's better to be surprised.
If you're looking for a cuddly romantic comedy, skip The Ramen Girl. If you're looking for a foodie movie to rent when there isn't a Bourdain-a-Thon to be had on the Travel Channel, The Ramen Girl is delicious.
Not guilty. Next, I want to see the story of the people who fill all those Tokyo vending machines I saw in the background.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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