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Nov 09

Three Films About Tokyo: 3: The Ramen Girl

Do You See + FT4 comments • 2,305 views

I was in Tokyo in 2002 for a week. I left the day before the World Cup started. If there was ever a point that Japan was geared up to deal with foreigner visitors, it was that week. And whilst the script was incomprehensible to me, and I spoke about ten words, I got by just about. But being on my own for much of the time, the big challenge was with food. And since I ate some great food in Tokyo, how did I do it. Well there is the pointing method (pointing at someone elses food or more likely the plastic model of the food in the window). But another good way was to go to a restaurant that only really served one thing. I eat anything so going to a ramen restaurant and just nodding when the waitress checked if I wanted egg, tofu, squid, rawlplugs did me fine. Because the ramen was always about the noodles and the soup.

The Ramen Girl, being about an American slacker who finds herself out of luck and depressed in Tokyo who decides to train to be a ramen chef therefore resonated strongly with me. The fact that Brittany Murphy’s Abby barely learns a word of Japanese in her time there also makes the film resonate, it is a bizarre film in two languages where both sides are constantly guessing what the others are saying (often far too well). I was quite interested in seeing if it was possible to work out as well as Abby what her ramen sensei was saying to her, but I couldn’t turn the subtitles off. No matter, The Ramen Girl is not that good a film, but it is an interesting film. Because it is basically a foodie version of a martial arts film. Ramen is presented as a mystical art rather than just a noodle soup, and the training is like any monastical training. Lots of cleaning. Its basically The Karate Kid with noodles.

Brittany Murphy is an odd actress, all squeaks, beestung lips and strange physical presence. But it works here as she cleans toilet after toilet in search of the ability to make a soup that made her happy. And critically the films line of food is very similar to that of Ratatouille. Heart and soul are as important as technical expertise, and its arc from learning to getting the approval of the “grandmaster of ramen” follows martial arts movies perfectly – even down to her qualified success. The soul of the film is important then, and Toshiyuki Nishida as the ramen chef is wonderfully irascible in his clichéd role (I was trying to work out where I recognised him from, he was Pigsy in Monkey!) And there is even a nice link at the end where the Ramen Grand Master is played by Tsutomu Yamazaki who was in Tampopo – probably the definitive ramen film.

The Ramen Girl doesn’t do enough to make it stand out, and didn’t do enough to get a cinema release in the UK, but its pleasant enough. As a bit of travel porn there are a few good views of Tokyo, but unlike the other two Tokyo films it is much more interested in an ex-pat experience (it manages well in having the two other ex-pats in it being total twats). And its message about food, and ambition, are rather nice. But I will remember it for reminding me of having a big bowl of noodles near Ueno station in a grotty old ramen shack and feeling on top of the world.

Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 2 Nov 2009 #

    “she cleans toilet after toilet in search of the ability to make a soup that made her happy” – er….?

  2. 2

    […] Three Films About Tokyo: 3: The Ramen Girl | FreakyTrigger I was in Tokyo in 2002 for a week. I left the day before the World Cup started. If there was ever a point that Japan was geared up to deal with foreigner visitors, it was that week. And whilst the script was incomprehensible to me, … more .. […]

  3. 3
    Pete on 2 Nov 2009 #

    That pretty much is the middle of the film. It is The Ramen Girl’s version of Mr Miyagi’s fence painting / waxing on and off – a semingly unrelated task which becomes very important in building up the necessary character to make perfect soup.

    Though it is slightly less clear how it works in this film (except the idea being to clean the toilet = to clean the mind and soul of distractions).

  4. 4
    Steve Mannion on 2 Nov 2009 #

    that’s a normal sized bowl and chopsticks in the poster

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