A bowl of Ramen is a self-contained universe. With life from the sea, the mountains and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen. Understand? So with that in mind, observe the ramen. Observe the ramen. – Chef Maezumi
I was thumbing through Netflix‘ ‘Watch Instantly’ selections the other night and came across The Ramen Girl, which immediately grabbed my attention, as I’ve never heard of it before. Oddly, this American-made film was first released in theaters in Germany in February 2008, Japan in February 2009, then released direct to DVD (not shown in theaters) in the United States in May of 2009.
From IMDB, the plot summary goes like this: “Abby (Britanny Murphy), four years out of college, an aimless child of privilege, comes to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend, who promptly leaves for Osaka. She wants to stay in Tokyo in hopes he’ll come back to her, but she’s miserable: she speaks little Japanese and has a dull job as a law-firm gopher. 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, she’s insistent, so he shouts at her and gives her all the cleaning to do. Weeks go by; she’s persistent. Will he ever actually teach her to cook? And if he does, will she bring the requisite spirit to the job?”
Since this film has been out for some time now, there’s already a number of reviews by critics, bloggers and commentors out there on the web, where the opinions about it seem quite polar in either loving it or hating it.
I’m not about to start adding movie reviews on this blog on a regular basis, but since this one revolves around one of my all-time favorite dishes, Japanese Ramen, I’d just like to share a few thoughts on it.
And if you’re going to ask if I’ve seen Tampopo yet, the answer is, ashamedly, NO. Ack! But I do have it on my NetFlix que, and can’t wait to see it!
First of all, I for one thoroughly enjoyed this film.
The abrasive synergy cast between Abby and Chef Maezumi maintained a direction that kept me on my feet, as I was expecting a little more humor and lightheartedness thrown into their teacher-student relationship, but instead they both remained mostly serious, stubborn and edgy, having you wonder when they’d eventually either strangle or kill each other instead of giving each other a hug.
My only complaint from a foodie aspect is that there wasn’t much focus on the ramen itself, its ingredients, and the specific cooking method Master Chef Maezumi employs to make it. Of course I’m not expecting a cooking show-turned-movie, but at least a little more of the aforementioned elements would have been nice to see thrown in.
Instead of the tangibles, it was more about the spiritual aspect of cooking ramen, which is referred by the Japanese as “Tamashii”. According to Chef Maezumi’s mother, ramen should be cooked from the heart, not the head.
Only thing is, the way this ramen philosophy of “Tamashii” is applied in this film, would seem contradictory to the character of master Chef Maezumi, who himself is broken-hearted, constantly boozing away his sorrows over his long lost “prodigal” son, who he hasn’t spoke with for more than five years. If this is the case, why is Chef Maezumi able to create Ramen with the “Tamashii” of happiness, when he himself isn’t in that state of mind?
Well whatever the case, he does. And this is where Abby comes into the picture as another broken-hearted soul after her boyfriend dumps her, only for her to soon be overcome by a state of happiness and joy after a mysterious “guiding wind” leads her to Chef Maezumi’s Ramen shop where she enjoys a bowl of his delicious “tamashii” Ramen. Thinking this is where she will find her true calling and meaning in life, she returns to Maezumi’s Ramen Shop not just insisting, but demanding Chef Maezumi teach her his craft.
I appreciated that the Japanese cast spoke their native tongue with subtitles, versus having one who spoke English. This, along with the authentically designed set really immerses you into believing you’re watching a real-life event unfold in an actual existing Ramen shop in Tokyo.
The movie could have unfolded several ways, and the path it takes will either frustrate you or have you pleasantly surprised, which I was a little of both. For that I think the writer and director has done their job well.
Except for one or two scenes that I think could have been either deleted or abbreviated, the movie has a good flow, the acting by all parties is acceptable, to good, to excellent (with exception to a few very quirky extras), while the set and cinematography helped present the story exactly how it should have been viewed.
Some reviewers claim The Ramen Girl has, ehem, “inspirations” from Tampopo and Lost in Translation, and while I haven’t seen those two films yet, I think in and on its own, The Ramen Girl deserves respect.
Being a Japanese Ramen fan, I probably enjoyed this film as much for that reason as any other aspect of it, as I could actually see myself in her shoes so to speak as “The Ramen Boy”. Well maybe not because I was dumped in Tokyo, but because I’d be just as eager and willing to learn as Abby was in how to make the perfect bowl of Japanese Ramen. I’m still on that journey.
If you’re on NetFlix, you can currently watch The Ramen Girl on demand. Otherwise, I think it’s worth a rental or a discount DVD purchase. Recommended.
The Ramen Girl
Starring Britanny Murphy and Toshiyuki Nishida
Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman
Written by Becca Topol
Format: Color, Dolby, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
The Tasty Island rating:
(3) Very Good
The Ramen Girl trailer
Here’s a recently-consumed bowl of Shoyu Ramen from Goma Tei Restaurant…
Ramen Nakamura Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen…
Kurume Shio Nama Ramen…
Myojo Shio Nama Ramen…