This film and I have a minor history. I was originally horrified by it and turned it into a Clip of the Day. It even became a joke between myself and Michael Tully, which I pray he quickly forgot about.
At the time, I wrote:
“Ramen stars Brittany Murphy as Flirty Bubbly Gaijin Girl who comes to Japan to be with her boyfriend. She’s quickly abandoned in lieu of something (we’re guessing Asian women) and discovers the healing power of ramen thanks to a cankerous old Master (Toshiyuki Nishida) and “Mama-San” (Kaori Momoi). Of course, there is no date set for a U.S. release, but if you’re in Japan, Singapore or the Netherlands consider yourselves lucky. Of course, maybe it will be a great film. And maybe ramen can teach us about ourselves. And maybe if I close my eyes and wish real hard, I’ll get a pony and a pink frilly dress with sparkles and made from dreams! Of course, it could just be easier for me to make Cup Noodle for breakfast, again.”
It was released on DVD in the U.S. last Tuesday.
After watching only eight minutes of it, I have been forced to revert to a form of reviewing I haven’t used since college.
The following took place on a Tuesday night.
8:22: I go back to the beginning.
8:23: “Thank you so much,” Brittany Murphy (“Stereotypical Gaijin Female”) croaks. The sadness wells in her throat as she looks at a Japanese Child who can only mutter “You’re Welcome” before running away in terror. This is The Ramen Girl.
8:24: The boyfriend is introduced. They’re in a magical club filled with white people. “Nii-San,” the sole Japanese man shouts off screen. It is translated as “Ethan.”
8:25: Yeah, he’s saying “Nii-San.”
8:26: Stereotypical Gaijin Female got a job as a copy editor at a Japanese Law Firm. Since she doesn’t speak Japanese.
8:27: Stereotypical Gaijin Female meets two flippant one-dimensional characters. One is male, white and decked out in all white. His name is Charlie. He’s flamboyant. The other is a redhead, white and named Gretchen.
Charlie: “I drink. Gretchen’s a GAY-SHA”
Gretchen: “I’m not a GAY-SHA.”
Charlie: “She’s a hooker.”
Gretchen: “I’m not a HOO-KHAH. I’m a Hostess.”
I’ll take this time—while they have sex in a cab—to remind you this is only the first three minutes. We have an hour and forty minutes to go.
8:29: OMG! HER BOYFRIEND IS LEAVING HER (for work in Osaka) AND HE WON’T LET HER COME WITH HIM (since, she has a job) AND HE DOESN’T WANT HER TO LIVE WITH HIM (since literally, it becomes apparent she flew out on her own accord in some stalkerish way.)
This is, like, nothing. Also, it is implied he works on websites. He’s a white guy in Tokyo who goes around Japan designing websites at companies. That’s the equivalent of someone pretending he can live in New York as a photographer.
8:32: Stereotypical Gaijin Female is in the street sobbing after her boyfriend left for work and said he’d be back eventually. JUMP CUT to the Japanese Law Firm, where she sits at a desk with nothing on it—no books, nothing. A closed laptop computer.
8:33: Oh snap, there’s wind in the air. She’s…wait for it…can it be? Is it? OH FUCK, SHE SMELLS RAMEN. THAT BITCH SMELLS RAMEN. CUE THE MANDOLINS AND ORCHESTRA. THERE IS FUCKING RAMEN IN THAT AIR AND SHE IS FUCKING STARVING FOR IT.
8:35: It is time for her “Rational Moment.” Bets are, Ethan in fact is fucking an Asian girl. But what happened to the Ramen she smelled?
8:36: Oh, it started raining randomly to show the passage of tiOH FUCK SHE FOUND RAMEN. SHE IS IN THE RAMEN SHOP. SHE IS SPEAKING ENGLISH IN THE RAMEN SHOP. AND SHE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND JAPANESE.
8:37: Toshiyuki Nishida is here. And it still sucks.
8:39: And now Kaori Momoi came out.
Nishida: “Do foreigners eat spring onion? What about spinach? Popeye eats spinach.”
8:40: SHE SAID “ETHAN LEFT ME” AND NISHIDA RESPONDS PHONETICALLY “EAT-O-YEH?” SINCE THAT SOUNDS LIKE ETHAN. WORD PLAY. GENIUS. GO! EAT THE RAMEN, GIRL! EAT THE RAMEN. IT IS 12 MINUTES SINCE I PUT THIS FILM ON AND YOU HAVE NOT EATEN RAMEN.
8:42: TWELVE MINUTES AND FORTY-THREE SECONDS IN AND SHE HAS JUST EATEN RAMEN. THANK GOD. SHE IS BEING HEALED BY RAMEN.
8:43: Orchestral swell. And a CGI-Fortune Cat appears to wave its right paw at her. I do believe Nishida slipped her whiskey Ramen.
8:44: Nishida has now had 8 shots of whiskey. Goddamn he’s awesome.
“Haneko-san. Do you know how to cook…RAMEN?”
“ME? OF COURSE NOT. IT MUSH TOO DIFFKULT. YOU HAVE TO TRAINING TO DO IT.”
I just did a spit-take. Fuck.
8:48: Ramen is being dipped into hot water; Ramen is being thrown into a bowl. Ramen is being made while woodwind instruments swell. Ramen is now served to a hungover Japanese Salaryman. And…oh shit, he just tried the broth…and he smiled! OH FUCK. SHE JUST HAD MORE RAMEN SIXTEEN MINUTES AND FIFTY TWO SECONDS INTO THE FILM.
I REPEAT. THE BITCH ATE MORE RAMEN. AND SHE’S LAUGHING.
8:49: I want you to know I mean no disrespect. But seriously, this entire film is a mockery of Japanese culture and should just be called Me Frappy My Dicky: A Blonde Woman Learns To Master A Form of Fast Food.
8:50: This ramen has to be made with liquor. People are getting stupid drunk off it.
8:51: Asian men chanting and clapping. To the untrained eye, this may look like a festival or parade. But to Stereotypical Gaijin Female, this is how she is integrated into culture. At this moment, it’s good to point out: she has yet to pay for food at the ramen shop.
“Tonight it’s the International House of Ramen.”
8:55: “I don’t wanna go! I wanna stay here!” Funny enough, the second she learns how to say, “You’re welcome,” in Japanese, she’s considered a fluent speaker.
8:56: TANKO DRUMMING. SERIOUS BUSINESS. DIVINE WIND IS BLOWING. “I WANT TO COOK RAMEN!”
Well, great. Only twenty-two minutes to start the plot to The Ramen Girl.
“I want to help be my teacher.”—Verbatim Quote from Brittany Murphy, in English.
8:59: “Who the hell is that girl?” It’s The Legendary Ramen Girl of course.
9:00: Can’t understand Japanese, thinks “Baka” is a sign of respect and hilariously wears shoes into “his house.” Mm.
9:02: The entire subplot of this film is that she’s bat-shit crazy and can’t speak the language.
9:04: “What, wher—wait, why are you taki—wait. What’s outside this door? Something’s over there? Where? I should go…walk over there?”
Slam door shut. THE END.
9:05: I am not that lucky for some reason. 12th shot of Whiskey from Nishida. I should join in.
I should comment at this time that Brittany Murphy is doing work in the kitchen wearing a frilly dress and high heels. And she somehow found a pack of cigarettes she has since hidden on her body.
9:07: 14th Shot of Whiskey! OK, Nishida. I’m joining you.
9:09: omg, the Ramen Girl found photos of Nishida when he may have been younger and in France!
“You’re just drunk! You’re supposed to be teaching me! Ramen! Ramen!”
“This is flat out abuse! Nobody with any self-respect would put up with you! I’m out of here!”
9:14: Moment of truth. The Ramen Girl realizes she’s bat-shit insane and decides she will “clean for you.”
9:24: Uh. She destroyed her phone and realized she’s never held a job until now—when she’s working a restaurant cleaning tables. And learning the mystical art of food preparation.
9:25: LONELY WHITE WOMAN DANCE BREAK TO SPUNKY GRRRL ROCK. And return of the Flamboyant Guy and GAY-SHA Goddess. Wow, it turns out he IS her pimp.
Now if this was culturally relevant, he’d be Brazilian and she’d be Korean.
“You are REERY studring to rearn Ramen! Thats Rawsome!”
“You speak English very well. Where did you learn it?”
“I rearned it rhen I ras a student in Ros Rangeles.”
It isn’t racism if the Stereotypical Gaijin Female is partaking in Ramen, but if a Japanese guy has to speak English…
“Whose side do you think he plays on?”
“It’s hard to tell—he’s Japanese!”
Charlie the Flamboyant Pimp is straight up treating her like a prostitute. Good for him.
“A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe…with life from the sea, the mountains and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen, understand?”
NO, I DON’T BECAUSE I’M AN IGNORANT WHITE MALE WHO CAN’T COMPREHEND YOUR LANGUAGE AND CAN’T COOK.
That’s what I would say if I were The Ramen Boy. I’d also cry and flail my hands. Later, I would remember when I used to be nominated for awards and not be forced to participate in sad attempts at remaking Tampopo without ever acknowledging it.
9:38: Gretchen the “Southern Belle” is frightening as a character, because she may be the most culturally relevant symbol of a foreigner in the Japanese hostess system. Since, yes, Virginia, she’s three shades shy of a whore.
And that’s disturbing when the entire point of this film is how a foreigner can so easily assimilate a “national treasure” by “walking it’s path.”
Oh. And she finds a love interest in a Salaryman. Named Yoshi.
“Have Rou ever been to the ramen museum in Rokohama?”
HOLY FUCK, HE CAN’T EVEN SAY YOKOHAMA. FUCK. HIS ENGRISH IS THIS BAD IT HAS ABUSED AND MUTATED HIS NATIVE FUCKING TONGUE.
9:44: Elvis Impersonator singing Jingle Bells. I am fine with this.
9:45: Uh oh, allusion to now-dead son of the Ramen Shop Owner.
“Look at the color. The texture. I think corn could be beautiful…KIRE.”
“There’s something about the Japanese and making the perfect bowl of soup.”
FUCK. YOU. FUCK YOU TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT YOU FUCKING GAIJIN WEEABOO. BOTH OF YOU.
“There’s one thing you have to do to survive this country that everybody else does. Drink.”
I’m on it.
9:50: Yoshi’s talking again. Yoshi’s Korean. It makes sense now. Great. The foreigner falls in love with someone who is of mixed descent.
9:51: Okay, an hour in. There’s going to be a Ramen cook-off, she’s going to fight some rival and then Ethan returns and she lives a happy life. Calling it.
9:52: Oh shit, the rival is set up. And the son is the “bad guy” from Sukiyaki Western Django.
Important note: Nishida says:
“Ramen—Cha cha cha. Maezumi—Cha cha cha.”
“Ramen—RAH RAH RAH MAEZUMI—RAH RAH RAH!!”
9:55: The Grand Master is coming in two months to taste the rival son’s broth. He’ll taste Stereotypical Gaijin Female’s broth and judge her too—OR ELSE SOMETHING DRAMATIC WILL HAPPEN.
“I don’t understand.”
NO SHIT. YOU CAN’T SPEAK OR COMPREHEND JAPANESE DESPITE HAVING LIVED THERE FOR HALF A YEAR AND YOU CAN’T TELL BASIC PHRASES LIKE “SHONEN,” “TEME,” “BAKA,” AND “RAMEN.” THEY ARE MAKING FUN OF YOU, BLONDE GIRL.
9:58: Stereotypical Gaijin Female’s new Japanese-Korean boyfriend is leaving for another job in Shanghai. “It’s happening again, etc, etc.”
“Don’t say it’s because you’re Japanese, because that’s just an excuse.”
“I am Japanese!”
Theoretically, your grandparents were Korean. You said so. This makes you an unfortunate half-breed that most Japanese would thoroughly discriminate against, despite claiming not to.
”Sensei, will you taste my broth?”
10:01: Another boyfriend leaves her. This time, she’s clothed.
10:03: *slurp* *head shake* *walk away*.
”Sensei. Please. Help me. Teach me how to have,” dramatic pause, grab breast, “Japanese Word for Spirit.”
10:04: The 72 minute mark. Time for a break.
11:37: During this time, I promise you, I’ve only done shots of scotch.
11:38: She’s now gone to the Ramen Master’s mother for training.
11:39: SHE SUDDENLY KNOWS JAPANESE.
11:43: IF YOU CRY INTO YOUR RAMEN, YOU WILL MAKE OTHERS CRY.
11:46: Old Man Eating Noodles Means Something.
11:51: OH NO THE STEREOTYPICAL GAIJIN FEMALE FAILED AT MAKING JAPANESE FOOD.
11:55: Oh Stereotypical Gaijin Female, you will be honored before you leave.
11:58: One Year Later...UGH.
She is a chef now, btw. And Yoshi comes back.
11:59: HER SHOP IS CALLED THE RAMEN GIRL. I GET IT NOW. AND IT IS IN A CGI-NEW YORK. GODDAMN I HATE YOU, DIRECTOR ROBERT ALLAN ACKERMAN.
That’s it. I’m done.
John Lichman is the online producer for Current.com/Movies and The Rotten Tomatoes Show. He’s wandering around the current_movies blog most days, but has also written for Spout, IFC and once co-hosted a podcast about Armond White and drinking.