“The Ramen Girl” (2008)
Much that is wrong with the modern American cinema is not the limited to the widespread gravitation toward an increasingly youthful demographic and the immature cultural curiosity to which it is gleefully and voluntarily mired, nor the industry reliance on recycling past successes with remakes featuring newly minted though woefully insufficient faces who fail to grasp the significance of appreciable screen presence, but what is alarmingly present in many, especially commercial populist variety, of the newer Hollywood features is a reliance on the memory of cinema as opposed to drawing from experience in something called “life” (and this will include the once vaunted but now homogenized “independent” splinter of the American filmmaking community, whose rebellious creative ideology has been sadly subsumed by the cheap allure of the attainment of an undeserved status within a “counterculture” by way of, or worse, being screened at any one of the myriad of film festivals which have uselessly proliferated like fleas on a feral cat since the implementation and premature canonization of the Sundance Film Festival.
Abby (Brittany Murphy) is a young American who, almost immediately upon arriving in Tokyo, is abandoned by her callow boyfriend, sending her into a brief emotional funk highlighted by sudden flares of hallucinatory portents. During a particularly vulnerable evening, she visits a local ramen shop and pours out her heart to the proprietor/chef Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida) and his wife Reiko (Kimiko Yo), both concerned and puzzled by this sudden outburst since neither speaks English. Abby is appreciative of their kindness and the ramen soup, and in due course is seized by a new career calling, cajoling Maezumi into becoming her ramen sensei.
Though not a remake in any sense of the term, “The Ramen Girl” is certainly beholden to, most transparently, “Tampopo” (that film’s star Tsutomu Yamazaki makes a brief appearance as “the Grand Master”, further solidifying the associative nudging) and “Like Water For Chocolate” for, what will likely be taken as originality by the less cinematically literate of viewers, in its more idiosyncratic narrative constructs. However, others might more correctly identify the film for what it is: a tired retread of ideas better applied elsewhere, attached to a romantic comedy formula that has been exhausted to the point of embarrassment; neurotic whining taking the place of wit and cloying neediness substituting for the romantic parry. Consistent with the accelerated pacing of the contemporary cinema, where nuance and details are secondary to rapid eye movement, the expected exposition which instigates the narrative, explains the context and defines the lead character are summarily skipped over in favor of a leap to the next prefabricated story element, without a minute’s explanation. Emotional crises are raised and are then simply dispensed with, as if screenwriter Becca Topol became stymied with any story development outside the scope of her somewhat slavish points of imitation. However, what truly undermines the entire film is a stubborn insistence on denying Abby and Maezumi any opportunity to directly linguistically communicate, with the result that all of their dialogue is transformed into emotionally repetitive shrill screeds that stagnates the plot given the fatal lack of immediacy in the exchanges between the main two protagonists. This absence of intelligible communication inescapably points to a yet unnamed film as the primary source of inspiration for “The Ramen Girl”; another film depicting a microcosm of multinational aggression advanced almost entirely through body language and actions: John Boorman’s film of wartime survivalist savagery, “Hell in the Pacific”.
Brittany Murphy has that kind of doe eyed sad sack fragility that is initially endearing, but without sufficient directly reactive confrontation with which to create a dramatic balance, her performance is left to flounder in a vacuum. Both Toshiyuki Nishada and Kimiko Yo bring a refreshing brightness and energy to their roles, despite falling victim to the same absence of collaborative intersection. The rest of the cast occupy roles only briefly noted, unexplainably undeveloped and wasted.