An American slacker (Brittany Murphy, 8 Mile, Girl Interrupted) abandoned by her boyfriend in Tokyo finds her calling in an unlikely place: a local ramen house run by a tyrannical chef who doesn't speak of a word of English. Undaunted by the chef's raging crankiness, Abby convinces him to teach her the art of ramen preparation... and despite hilarious clashes of culture and personality, she learns how to put passion and spirit into her life as well as her cooking.
“The Ramen Girl” is somewhat of an oddity of a movie. On its surface, it appears to be a culture-clash comedy led by Brittany Murphy’s American teenage girl Abby and Toshiyuki Nishida’s Japanese ramen chef Maezumi. But it doesn’t take long before one realises that it isn’t actually a comedy.
Sure, Abby’s interactions with Maezumi are full of cultural misunderstandings and language barriers- but Robert Allan Ackerman’s film makes a conscious decision not to turn them into anything humorous. Indeed, “The Ramen Girl” is a surprisingly serious film about a young girl’s search for meaning in her life after being dumped by her boyfriend whom she moved to Tokyo for. That search ends when she discovers Maezumi’s humble neighbourhood ramen shop.
Like a stroke of inspiration, Abby decides to learn to cook ramen from the grumpy chef. But Abby knows nary a hint of Japanese and Maezumi not a smattering of English, so the two actually spend most of their time initially yelling and mocking each other, each in their respective languages. Indeed, for a Hollywood movie, it’s surprising to see that a large chunk of the film’s dialogue is in Japanese (though thankfully unlike Abby, we are blessed with subtitles).
“The Ramen Girl” is also surprising for its respect for the Japanese culture. Of course, there are some perfectly cringe-worthy lines- like “a bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountains, and the earth, all existing in perfect harmony”- which sound more like Western New-Age zen than Japanese words of wisdom. But “The Ramen Girl” is one of the few East-meets-West movies that acknowledge the West can very well learn some things from the East- just as Abby learns the spirit of diligence and focus from her master.
Yet for all its good intentions, “The Ramen Girl” somehow comes out lacking. It’s not just how it lacks that little much-needed bit of levity. No, first-time screenwriter Becca Topol tries to make us believe that Abby eventually discovers purpose in her life by scrubbing toilets, brushing floors, and cleaning pots and pans thanks to an almost tyrannical chef. Still, Abby’s transformation comes across all too trite and convenient and at the end of the day, ends up less than convincing.
It doesn’t help that the usually cheery Brittany Murphy fails to make her character Abby any more likeable. Instead, Abby is often seen pouting, ranting or crying- none of which are endearing after a while. In fact, one ends up sympathising more with Nishida’s character Maezumi, having to put up with someone as immature and demanding as Abby. Nishida himself is also a much better actor than Murphy, and it’s no surprise who is the more watchable of the duo.
For a cookery movie, “The Ramen Girl’s” requisite food shots are also surprisingly unappetizing. Though it tries to make you believe how delicious that bowl of ramen is, you’d probably be find yourself more enticed just looking at the menu of Ajisen Ramen. And the same can be said of this movie- it’s bland and simply not very appealing.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
There’s an Alternate Ending that’s really just an extended version of what you see in the film. Just as unnecessary are the 17 Deleted Scenes that add little to the film as it already is. Lastly, you can also catch the film’s trailer that has been included in this disc.
The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 though there is little here that makes good use of the surround sound. Some parts of the movie, especially the night shots, appear grainy and overexposed, though it’s more a consequence of the film being shot on digital video than a fault of this DVD.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 7 July 2009