Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ramen Girl Movie Review

I enjoy foodie movies. They show a deep passion for food and cooking. My favorite is probably Julie & Julia.  I discovered The Ramen Girl (2008) while browsing around NetFlix. The thought of a movie about someone learning to make a traditional dish that was not from her own country interested me a great deal. But the actual movie fell short of its potential.
Abby (Brittany Murphy), four years out of college, an aimless child of privilege, follows her boyfriend to Tokyo, who then promptly leaves Abby and heads to Osaka for another job prospect. In hopes that her ex-boyfriend will return to Tokyo, Abby decides to stay. While there, she is miserable; she speaks little Japanese and has a dull job as a law-firm gopher. One evening she stumbles into the neighborhood ramen shop operated by the aging master chef Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida) and his wife Reiko (Kimiko Yo). His soup cheers Abby, so she decides to apprentice herself to him. He’s uninterested, but she is insistent. So he shouts at her and gives her all the cleaning to do. Weeks go by, and still she persists, not knowing if he will ever actually teach her to cook, or if she will ever have the requisite spirit for the job.
Brittany Murphy gained acting notoriety in one of her early films, Clueless, where she played the target in a teen girl make over movie. She’s also known for voicing Luanne Platter in the King of the Hill prime time animated sitcom. It seems she primarily played dim-witted young ladies for most of her career. Abby in The Ramen Girl wasn’t much different. She’s depicted as an air head, but the problems Abby is faced with aren’t all that eccentric given her situation. I’m sure anyone would react with such composure when stuck in a large city in the middle of a foreign country where they don’t speak the language. I felt like I was supposed to think Abby was simpleton, but I found her more relatable than the target stupid blond jokes.
The Ramen Girl was pretty tame. It felt about as bold and realistic as a Disney Channel original movie featuring Ashley Tisdale or Miley Cyrus; pretty, spoiled blond girl who has never worked a day in her life suddenly has to try to prove herself rather than sit around looking pretty. Unlike Disney’s TV-cinema abominations, The Ramen Girl does a half decent job with this story trope. Maybe I’m biased since I like foodie movies so much. I’ve seen plenty of other movies about self-actualization and personal fulfillment convey the theme a whole lot better, but this wasn’t bad. Julie & Julia did the same thing through cooking, but was so well done and inspiring that it prompted me to start this blog. I didn’t really feel like I needed to go live my dreams by the end of The Ramen Girl.
There’s also the classic master/student dynamic between Abby and Maezumi. The Ramen Girl is to ramen what The Karate Kid is to martial arts. The wise master puts the student through grueling training to teach them how to perfect a skill. One would not suppose that making soup would be all that grueling, but The Japanese are very proud of their traditional ramen dish, or at least they are depicted so in this movie. There are lots of scenes that accentuate the difference between American and Japanese culture, but none were very impressive. Lost in Translation did the same thing so much better.
The Ramen Girl is a nice, cute feel good movie, but is pretty bland and predictable. You can see everything this movie tries to achieve done better in other movies. Unlike characters in the Disney Channel movies mentioned above, Abby is a young adult woman, not a 15 year old girl. We see her drinking and smoking pretty regularly. That may be a red flag for any viewers who want to watch this with their young kids. Abby looks so much like the Disney Channel teen girls that impressionable kids may get the wrong impression about appropriate drinking or smoking ages. I’m glad I saw The Ramen Girl. It wasn’t too bad a movie, and it made me want to learn how to make authentic ramen soup rather than that those fifteen cent packages you can get at any grocery store. The Ramen Girl might be worth renting to see it once, but certainly not worth the money to own a copy.

Do you have a favorite "foodie" movie? What is it and why do you like it so much? Comment below and let me know!

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