Starring: Brittany Murphy, Toshiyuki Nishida, Kimiko Yô
Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
Running Time: 102 mins
The Ramen Girl is an American film about an American girl who, after moving to Tokyo with her boyfriend, suddenly finds herself single after she gets dumped. Searching for purpose in her life, she stumbles across a small ramen shop, where she decides to learn the art of making the classic Japanese dish.
So, girl moves to Tokyo. Girl doesn’t speak Japanese. Girl has life-changing experience despite the language barrier. Yes, there are some very, very clear parallels between The Ramen Girl and Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. And as far as I’m concerned, this film wins out.
Now, I know that there is far more to Lost In Translation than just those few bullet points, but the story in The Ramen Girl is also more than skin-deep. Though it plays to more familiar and more comfortable narrative clichés, the film tells a genuinely moving story about self-growth and above all the power of communication, even beyond the language barrier.
So, if you’re like me and found Lost In Translation too pretentious or simply just a bit boring, then I think you’ll really like The Ramen Girl, and here’s a few reasons why.
Firstly, Brittany Murphy is really rather lovely in the lead role. She neither plays up annoying stereotypes of Westerners superficially obsessed with quaint Japanese culture, but nor does she act like an arrogant, disinterested American stamping all over Japan.
Instead, Murphy hits a really nice sweet spot in her performance that brings attention onto her character’s inner struggles, particularly as she struggles to find purpose even when she commits to doing something, particularly as challenging as learning the art of ramen from a chef who doesn’t speak a word of English.
Alongside Murphy is Toshiyuki Nishida as her ramen ‘sensei’. Now, there’s no way that The Ramen Girl has anything on The Karate Kid‘s Mr. Miyagi, but I enjoyed how the film showed a slightly harsher side to a mentor-mentee relationship, with Nishida’s grouchy persona proving a constant sticking point between the pair throughout.
Again, The Ramen Girl is a film filled with familiar tropes, but it manages to use them in such a way that it plays into the story’s rather surprisingly genuine message about self-growth and overcoming cultural and communication barriers.
And where Lost In Translation often found itself in meandering, psychedelic abstract drama, The Ramen Girl actually manages to deliver an engaging, fun and thought-provoking look at fitting in and living in a culture miles apart from one’s own.
However, there’s one very important caveat to that. The subtitles.
As the name suggests, Lost In Translation doesn’t have subtitles to further immerse you in that sense of being totally out of your depth – with its characters being constantly unnerved as they don’t speak a word of Japanese.
It’s a big part of what makes the essence of the film work, and the same is absolutely true of The Ramen Girl. I’m told that the film was originally presented with subtitles for its mainstream audience, but I can tell you now that that completely ruins the effect of the movie.
If you want something fluffy and easy, then watch the movie with the subtitles on. But I would implore you to give it a go and watch without any translation from the Japanese – because it makes such a big difference.
That way, you’re in exactly the same boat as Murphy’s character, struggling to understand the people around her because of the language barrier. But that only allows you to form a greater connection with her – as you struggle with her and grow with her over the course of the movie.
Unless you speak fluent Japanese, the best way to understand her ramen ‘sensei’ is through communication beyond language, which is a far, far deeper kind of relationship and communication than you can ever show just through dialogue.
I might be reaching here, I know. But I was really astonished by just how much depth and emotional impact there was to be experienced from The Ramen Girl, just by switching the subtitles off. It can be enjoyed as a fluffy rom-com if you keep them on, but there’s a lot more to it than that if you fancy the challenge. So, that’s why I’m giving The Ramen Girl a 7.6 overall.