The Ramen Girl

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…


20 thoughts on “The Ramen Girl

  1. Pomai, you should borrow it at the main library check online their web. There a great Asian web call video4asian where you can watch many videos online free. There two great one call Eat Drink Man Woman by Ang Lee and other call Udon great food films. I saw Lunch Queen and learn of katsu sandwiches and omrice with demi glaze sauce.

  2. Pomai, I just seen it on watch-movie-online-tv and very entertaining. Just like Tampopo got to head on out for ramen now. It the broth that make a good ramen.

  3. Pomai I’m surprised that you never seen Tampopo but it’s not an easy movie to get.

    Check out YouTube and type in Tampopo to get clips of the movie. As a ramen fan you have to see this movie. The movie is not only about ramen but it will teach you in a comical way how to cook and eat ramen. I had to purchase my DVD of the movie from The cover of the movie on your blog is from the original DVD and it’s a collectors item going for $90 to $120. But they have a cheaper later released dvd for about $17. My favorite scenes from Tampopo are the Italian and French restaurants, the omu rice, the little boy eating the ice cream.

  4. Pomai, after reading Michael and Kelike comments on watching on watch-movie-online-tv and video4asian I log on to check it out. Yes it for free and saw Ramen Girl and Udon and Eat Drink Man Woman. It great to share infor to other bloggers. Now to watch Lunch Queen and Shota Sushi on video4asian.

    I seen Tampopo dvd from library it free with library card for one week. It have more detail of ramen making and soup making in it unlike Ramen Girl more story. For food film it should show more detail. Yes after film got to have ramen to eat. Make sure have some on hand after film.

  5. I stumbled upon this move at NetFlix and figured it would be kind of weak. I liked the lead actor Nishida Toshiyuki. Suprisingly enough it was pretty entertaining. It’s a classic of example of “when in Japan become Japanese.” Don’t ask “why” or think “in America we do it this way.” Your experience will be much better.

    I saw Tampopo when it was playing at the art theaters in Los Angeles. Immeadiately after the movie I had to go grab a bowl of ramen. Whenever I see that movie I HAVE to eat ramen. I guarantee after you watch Tampopo you’ll crave ramen or omu-raisu. After you watch Eat Drink Man Woman you’ll crave Chinese food. It’s probably a good idea to watch either movie while the restaurants are still open and not in the middle of the night. Speaking of which, I can’t seem to find a good bowl of ramen. I’ve tried a couple of the popular places and I just gave up. People say I’m a snob because I complain about ramen, sushi, yakitori, etc. here in Honolulu. I can’t wait to move back to Japan.

    Check out Shinya Shokudo at video4asian. It reminds of so much of my friend’s izakaya and places I used to hang out in Japan – the same food, the same atmosphere, the same types of people. I get hungry watching this one too. I cooked rice at 2:30am – two words – butter rice.
    eaking of which, I can’t seem to find a good bowl of ramen. I’ve tried a couple of the popular places and I just gave up. People say I’m a snob because I complain about ramen, sushi, yakitori, etc. here in Honolulu. I can’t wait to move back to Japan.

    Check out Shinya Shokudo at video4asian. It reminds of so much of my friend’s izakaya and places I used to hang out in Japan – the same food, the same atmosphere, the same types of people. I get hungry watching this one too. I cooked rice at 2:30am – two words – butter rice.

  6. I seen Shinya Shokudo and waiting for more EP coming soon. I crave Japanese potato salad after that ep and katsu don. Check out Mysoju also for other great Asian videos. Seen Udon on video4asian and it the only web that have it. It have more information on udon making and where it is famous in Japan. Yes after film crave udon so got some ready after film. Watch Shota Sushi about a young man want to the best sushi chef and show many type of sushis in Japan.

  7. Since there not much good Asian shows on tv it wonderful online have many webs that for free for all to enjoy. I am now watch Queen Seon Duk and it a grand production. Watched Tampopo from the library and Lunch Queen, Shota Sushi , Shinya Shokudo which all still waiting for to come and Ramen Girl on watch-movie-online-tv. Mysoju and video4asian are most popular webs. Eat Drink Man Woman and Udon were most enjoyed .

  8. Thanks for the link to another Asian online site! I watch on the other ones but another one is always welcome! BTW, those bowls of ramen is what I need right now with the cool temp.

  9. Even in LA sometime would like to watch certain Asian films and videos. There also dramafreak and dramacrazy but the best are mysoju and video4asian. Watch-movie-online-tv is also great for lastest films to watch for free. I seen Christmas Carole with Jim Carrey and Donny Yen IP Man and Jet Li The Mummy. Be careful when watch Tampopo and other food films. Make sure have enough ramen and Chinese food and udon ready to snack on.

  10. Pomai, I am surprise you never borrow dvds from library since it free or watch online from webs. I sometime log on watch-movie-online-tv it great for the lastest films for free. Saw Ramen Girl but not as good as Tampopo in food film. On mysoju seen Shota No Sushi and learned of many type of sushis from serial. Tapanyaki Girl also show many regions of Japan food and how she learn to make it. Lunch Queen got me now want katsu sandwiches and omrice with demi glaze sauce. Udon made me stock up on udons.

    So without spending and fee to rent just log on to Mysoju, watch-movie-online-tv, video4asian, epdrama , dramafreak, dramacrazy. Twilight New Moon is soon online.

  11. Kimo, I might just go to the neighborhood library and rent Tampopo, as we have too many other movies up on our Netflix que, so it’s going to be a while until I see it.

    Wow, you folks suggested so many asian foodie movies! What’s funny is how all of you say you get hungry after watching them. Raises hand, same here! Good thing I was well stocked with Sun Noodle Shoyu Nama Ramen in my fridge!

    Milo, I agree about actor Nishida Toshiyuki. I’m now a big fan! I’m gonna’ look for more movies he’s in. As for Japanese specialty restaurants here in Honolulu, surely none can compare to those in Japan. Still, I’m curious, which ramen shop here in Honolulu do you like best? So far I think the now-gone Daruma had the most authentic Tokyo style shoyu and chashumen yet. Next would have been also now-gone Ito Guruma in Waikiki.

    So far, here’s a laundry list of all the asian foodie films you folks have suggested:

    • Shota No Sushi
    • Tapanyaki Girl
    • Shinya Shokudo
    • Eat Drink Man Woman
    • Lunch Queen
    • Udon

    I’ve also bookmarked and Thanks for the links!

  12. Definitely get Tampopo from the library, or at least move it to the top of your Netflix queue. You’re in for such a treat!

    Another fun Nishida film is “Get Up!” (“Geroppa!”). Not sure how available it is, though. Worth checking out if you find it, though.

  13. I don’t know if anybody noticed that the lead actor in Tampopo (Tsutomu Yamazaki) also played the ramen master in Ramen Girl. Couldn’t be a mere coincidence. Another hilarious movie series done by Nishida is the “Tsuri Baka Nisshi” (Fishing Fool Report) along with the famous actor Rentaro Mikuni as his buddy.

    I think Nishida as the new Kiyoshi Atsumi (Tora-san).

  14. I’m absolutely shocked, saddened and really quite devastated to hear the news that actress Brittany Murphy died this morning of what initial reports claim was cardiac arrest.
    I truly adored her as ‘Abby’ in the film Ramen Girl.
    R.I.P. Brittany ‘Abby’ Murphy. You will truly be missed. Have a bowl of Ramen in heaven.

    You have “Tamashii”.

  15. Hi there Pomai!
    I finally watched Ramen Girl, and I’m glad I now have it in my dvd collection. The plot was a little cutsie for me, but all in all, an excellent movie.
    Like the other suggestions, I definitely recommend eat drink man woman. It’s another great foodie movie, with subtitles. You’ll be craving chinese food for days!
    Another foodie movie in my collection is Fatso, starring the late Dom DeLuise. That movie makes me want to eat everything! Please check this one out!
    Thanks again for the suggestion! I appreciate the wisdom of a fellow foodie and cinephile!

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