The Ramen Girl has a lot of potential that unfortunately falls flat due to its weak female lead. Brittany Murphy (Abby) plays an American woman who ends up in Tokyo, Japan to visit her boyfriend who shortly afterwards leaves her. Left in a foreign location, she struggles with the language as she goes about slowly but surely learning about the culture and traditions of the people around her.
The story feels a bit forced at times, almost taking everything for granted. So, when Abby suddenly decides that she wants to learn how to be a ramen chef, everything around her seems to always fall in place except for the equally stubborn and tyrannical chef of the little diner who is to teach her the art of making the perfect ramen. While this would have been an excellent time to incorporate food into the story, the film treats the entire episode of Abby becoming a ramen chef as a supporting story and not the primary one. The film came out at a time when the TV and film food revolutions (Chef, MasterChef, and the popularity of Celebrity Chefs) hadn’t even started, and that may be a reason why food is always kept in the background. The film as a result is less about food and more about lessons in life. It’s also about the viewpoints Japanese people have about the Americans and vice versa. While Abby faces language problems, her Ramen sansei, Maezumi, played wonderfully by Toshiyuki Nishida, makes her realize that life is not always about “me” and more about living from the heart and not the head.
While the story holds a certain charm to it, it lacks any direction. There are supporting characters, like the two expatriates Abby meets in a club, who are simply redundant to the entire setup. Birttany Murphy doesn’t always come across as the right person for the role. I feel the movie could have achieved a lot more had it had a much stronger character actor in the lead.
The film also fails to make the most of its location. Focusing mostly on the interactions between the characters and more so on the emotional breakdown of Abby as she tries to rediscover herself, leaving very little space to experience the city which is a missed opportunity considering that Tokyo has a lot to offer visually.
The Ramen Girl proves to be an average affair with relatively poor performances by most of the American actors and some brilliant performances by their Japanese counterparts. Take away the excessive almost superficial breakdown of Abby, add on a bit more flavour with food, and a hint of non-clichéd humor, and this could have been a wonderful little film.