When Food Movies Suck: The Ramen Girl

It sure ain't Tampopo

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The Ramen Girl was released in 2008, starring Brittany Murphy. The cover, perhaps, tells an even better premise than the trailer. On it, you’ll see Brittany looking like a Japanese Barbie, wrapped in a red kimono. Her hands are in prayer position just under her mouth, which is heavily lined with red lipstick. The tagline: “Her romance is on pins and noodles.” Yes, pins and noodles…

I first saw this movie in a Food & Film class in college. It was among other movies that I really enjoyed like Tampopo and Goodfellas. So despite the cover, I had high-ish hopes. But it turns out the movie is a real clunker, even if you’re ramen-obsessed like me. But the subtitles are funny—and if you’re sitting at home on a rainy summer night, eating some ramen and looking for a movie to watch (and a laugh), this is fun throwback. And if you don’t feel like renting it on Amazon, below is my summary (with commentary).

•The movie opens in a Japanese subway car—which is way less crowded then it should be—and a little boy hands Brittany Murphy (her name in the movie is Abby) back the cover to her lipstick. She seems extremely grateful.

•Then we find Brittany in a club in Tokyo. Her Carrie Bradshaw gold dress and platinum hair really stand out here. She’s heading to meet her boyfriend, who we can tell already, is a jerk. But it’s okay because she meets a pimp and a prostitute and they seem pretty cool.

•In the morning, her American boyfriend decides that her moving to Japan (just for him) was a bad idea. He gets in a cab and leaves her standing on the street…in a towel. It’s unclear who will be paying the rent going forward.

•The next night it’s freezing and raining and Brittany goes into a ramen shop across the street. The shop owner says it’s closed but once she starts crying, he tells her to sit down. He fixes her a bowl of ramen with spinach because “Americans love Popeye.”

•Now she’s sobbing and complaining to a Japanese couple who cannot understand her. “She’s a lunatic,” they say, but they tell her to eat anyway.

•She eats! And her tears are gone. Is she cured? Is she hallucinating? Because that plastic cat on the wall just waved at her.

•Back at work as a copywriter for a law firm, Brittany red pens a sign from “Do not flash toilet” to “Do not flush toilet.” Apparently this is copywriting in Japan.

•For dinner, it’s ramen again. Maezumi, the shop owner and ramen expert, cooks in slow motion as Brittany notes the care he puts into the cooking process. Now she and another guy are in a tizzy laughing. I guess ramen is hilarious!

•The next night, Brittany has another ramen craving, but this time Maezumi’s wife has hurt her foot. Brittany tells her to sit down and she starts serving.

•So now Brittany’s the cleaner—I guess she has quit her other job. With her blonde hair and cute dress and pumps, she is cleaning a toilet. For the record, her boyfriend has not called her back.

•Now she’s having a dance party in her apartment. On her first day off, she meets a nice Japanese guy who speaks English.

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•When Maezumi does finally start talking about ramen—I guess Brittany has grown on him—he calls each bowl a self-contained universe. Brittany is just nodding along, but unfortunately, she doesn’t speak Japanese. We have subtitles though, thank goodness. He tells her to “observe the ramen” but she tries to add spinach to the bowl instead and Maezumi calls her a “monkey.”

•On Christmas Day, Brittany and the prostitute get drunk.

•Well, I guess Maezumi has renewed faith in Brittany. He just told his competition that when the grand ramen master comes to town in two months, he will try her ramen broth.

•It seems Brittany and the Japanese guy are an item since she just woke up in his bed. Then he dropped the bomb that he’s moving to Shanghai…for three years. Oh now he is inviting her. But she wants to stay…so she says goodbye to yet another man. This time she’s wearing more than a towel.

•Brittany is making broth! But Maezumi throws it in the sink. “No spirit,” he says.

•Maezumi brings Brittany to his mother. She says the broth is bland. She tells Brittany to “put your tears in your broth.”

•Brittany literally cries into her ramen broth. When she serves it to her new friends, they all start crying.

•Grand Master is arriving. He tries the competition’s ramen and is very sleepy but approves. Now he tries to Abby’s ramen. She has added peppers, corn and tomatoes. He says it’s good but she needs more time and restraint. He cannot give her his blessing.

•Despite her lack of blessing, Maezumi tells Brittany that she has the Japanese spirit. He names her his successor. He also is astounded that after a year in Japan, she still can’t speak or understand any Japanese.

•Abby is about to leave for America but it’s the summer festival so she rides the shrine. Maezumi gives her a red lantern and they smile at each other for too long.

•One year later, Abby is back in America with her own ramen shop. She really should wear a hairnet. Then her old Japanese boyfriend walks in and they kiss. Her shop is called The Ramen Girl.

Ariel Kanter is an editor at Gilt City and contributing food writer to amNewYork. She lives and eats in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @RavenousRel and Instagram @ArielKanter for photos of meals and, occasionally, her cat Jasper.