Reader Request: The Ramen Girl

Any movie about the Japanese culture has to mention the strong Japanese spirit. The belief saying we must do things from the heart and not from the mind. Overthinking something is seen as a sin and disgraceful to the action. The Ramen Girl uniquely shows this Japanese spirit and a not-so-well-known aspect of Japanese culture.


Abby (Brittany Murphy) moves to Tokyo to be closer to her boyfriend only to be abandoned by him. Left alone in a foreign country with a dead-end job and no way to communicate, Abby stumbles into a ramen restaurant down the street from her apartment. There she is introduced to the mystical powers of a good bowl of ramen and begins pestering the chef until he accepts her as his student. Abby is pushed to the brink as he tries to break her spirit, but she is determined to finally finish something that she started.

Many aspects of Ramen are the same things we have seen over and over. The sensei making his pupil clean and do menial labor for months on end until they learn the true value of the desired trade. The spoiled American who is more enthused by superficial matters than being rewarded for hard work and dedication. Yet, Ramen is unique in showing the Japanese perspective alongside the American. Abby’s story is obviously the focus of the tale, but the stories of her Japanese friends are given chances to shine. Her sensei, Maezumi and his wife offer a solid insight into the Japanese view of a foreigner trying to integrate herself. There is the same male-dominated dynamic, but it is less prominent in Ramen than in previous films.

The importance of ramen is a pretty interesting aspect of the film. The idea of an American girl being a ramen chef is so blasphemous to the Japanese that as an American watching, it is confusing as well as eye-opening that something seemingly mundane is so revered in their culture. This plays into Maezumi’s teachings that Abby needs to feel the appreciation for ramen before she can make legitimate broth. It seems simple to us, but apparently there is much more to it than perfecting the technique and recipe.

Murphy is more likable than she had been in her other films. She may look extremely awkward when crying or kissing, but the rest of her performance is enjoyable. It is pretty clear that she took the time to master some Japanese phrases, which helps the authenticity of believing Abby spends an entire year there.

While being fun and entertaining, Ramen isn’t without its “huh” moments. The biggest being the occasional reminder of some American friends she meets in the beginning of the film. They have the potential to be interesting characters, but are largely ignored and forgotten about for long periods. The focus is primarily on Maezumi, Abby, and his wife.

Murphy’s reputation from films like Just Married and Little Black Book made the viewing of The Ramen Girl seem to be a bit of a chore, but it is a pleasant surprise. If you are interested in a solid look into Japanese culture from the Japanese and American point of view, Ramen serves as a good, light-hearted guide. Don’t be surprised if you end up wholeheartedly enjoying it.

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