Recipe for Ramen Girl (serves 4)
Take one American girl, preferably in her early 20’s, and place her in Japan.
Add a touch of one self centered American male, also in his early 20’s, but sprinkle lightly, (After all, this is merely a subtle flavor that really doesn’t need to be all that well developed.)
Do not mix. (These ingredients will not mix. That’s the point)
Slowly stir in a cranky old Japanese ramen chef to taste.
Sprinkle in an odd American couple that really serves no purpose to the dish, but acts like corn syrup making the dish appear to have more substance than it actually does.
Let the above ingredients simmer.
Garnish with one young Japanese love interest, but be careful to only add to dish when you are ready to serve. It’s important that this ingredient does not blend with the others or remain on the platter for very long. It’s meant to be seen and not tasted.
Abby (Murphy) has picked up her life in America and moved to Japan to be with her boyfriend who has moved there on business. She quickly learns that he isn’t all that interested in having her around, and before we ever get to know him, he’s on the road again. She drowns her sorrows in the ramen shop across the street. The Japanese couple appear to take some pity on the girl and feed her. They must have put some bad mushrooms in the soup, because when she’s finished she sees the cat clock beckoning to her. That’s it. She’s decided to dedicate her life to learning the mystery behind the ramen. In spite of a language gap as big as the Grand Canyon, she worms her way into an apprenticeship. It’s not really what she expected, however. Our chef is an abusive tyrant who appears more interested in running her off than teaching her the art of ramen, which by the way is apparently the art of making the broth, not the noodles themselves.
When a recipe goes bad, it’s not always easy to identify exactly what went wrong, particularly if the fault is more than one thing. Often times the ingredients were just not all that fresh. Other times we overcook some portions or undercook others. It could be that our proportions were not quite right. Sometimes the fault is merely in the presentation. But what happens if you end up with all of these problems? You get the latest direct to video comedy, The Ramen Girl.
The story is not a very new or interesting one as it’s developed here. Think of it as The Karate Kid in the kitchen. There are moments in the beginning of the Abby/Chef relationship where the movie does tend to have promise. There are some amusing moments that occur with the whole language barrier idea. But here’s where we run into a bit of overcooking. It went too far and too long to remain an effective device. After a year Abby seems no more fluent in Japanese than she was before, except where it serves the story. She reminds me of my old dog. There appear to be times she understands quite remarkably, while others she can’t appear to understand a thing. The concept went entirely too far, in any case. While in the undercooked category we have the apprenticeship itself. We get almost no meaningful teaching or training here at all. Outside of expressing his frustration and a constant reminder to use her heart and not her head, we never get to watch him guide her towards her goal. No matter what kind of a film you were hoping for here, you’ll find that many of the ingredients are not served in appropriate proportions. If it’s a romantic comedy as the tag line suggests, we don’t experience any of the romance. She splits with the first guy before we get to know either of them. The Japanese guy she does fall for is also completely undeveloped. We never see them bond at all. He just is there then he’s not, only to reappear when convenient to the story at the very end. Finally, there is the whole presentation thing. While I liked a few of the performances, it doesn’t appear as though the movie was ever completed. I guess it’s true what they say about Oriental food. I was quite full of it just minutes into the film, but 20 minutes afterwards, I was hungry again… for something else, of course.
The Ramen Girl is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture is often rather soft. I was never sure if it was intentional or merely a bad print. There doesn’t seem to be much reason for the style, and usually I would expect a bright, sharply focused image to set the atmosphere for a comedy. Detail is poor, and black levels are only fair. It appears bent on showing a rather seedy side to Japan and neglects to use the exotic location to build a strong image.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is your typical comedy front and center affair. There isn’t much of a score, and even dialog isn’t that important unless you speak Japanese. Much of the dialog must be discerned through the use of subtitles. That makes for a distracting situation, particularly when you’re dealing with a physical comedy.
Deleted and Extended Scenes: One of the reasons the film feels the way it does is because of the rather poor pacing as told through terrible editing. The fact that there are 18 scenes here totaling a half hour are further evidence to a poor job by film editor Rick Shaine. It’s no real mystery now why there have been reports that Ed Norton had such a confrontational relationship with Shaine over his editing of The Incredible Hulk.
I’m not sure the film will do any better with a Japanese audience. The film often portrays the culture in a rather unfavorable light. One character tells Abby that the only way to deal with Japan is the same way everyone here does…drink. The chef is also an absolute alcoholic. The film just fails to deliver on any level. I suppose that we might be surprised by what a “real” ramen dish might be like. We’re used to the instant stuff that’s a staple in every college student’s diet. I think this film is akin to an instant comedy mix. You could ask that I sit through it again and see if my opinion changes, but I beg you, “Please don’t do this to me”.