The Ramen Girl Gets Lost in Translation

Brittany Murphy in The Ramen Girl
Brittany Murphy in The Ramen Girl

The Ramen Girl tells the story of what happens when somebody moves to the other side of the world to be with someone else. It doesn’t always work out the way they’d hoped it would, yet there are times when it all works out for the best.

The story begins with an attractive blond woman named Abby with big eyes and a big smile meeting her boyfriend at a crowded Tokyo nightclub.

He’s glad to see her, he introduces her to his friends, and she’s secure because they can communicate in English. A trio of salarymen strike up a conversation, they speak limited but passable English, and one of them, Toshi, is an attractive looking fellow who went to school in LA.

But soon the scene shifts; it’s the next day and boyfriend-san is furiously packing a suitcase. “I’m sorry Abby, but I have to go—now!” He has to fly to a distant city in Japan to rescue a bank’s website, “and they need me yesterday.”

The Ramen Girl on IMDB

Suddenly Abby realizes that her idea of dropping in from America and trying to live with her boyfriend in Japan wasn’t such a good idea. He leaves her depressed, smoking on the balcony of the apartment. Down below a ramen noodle shop is busy with customers, and she watches it with interest.

Abby makes her way to the shop but it’s closed. The older couple who run it can’t get Abby to understand that ‘there is no more ramen. We are closed.’ She begins to cry, ┬áso they feed her ramen to make her feel better, as they continue to try to talk to her in Japanese and she talks to them in her unintelligible English. She feels better after the umami kicks in slurping the noodles. She hatches a plan.

The next day she marches into the shop again as the ramen master is taking another swig of booze. She wants him to teach her how to make ramen–and as the audience is reading subtitles and knows what he is saying, she hasn’t a clue.

He’s saying she’s a stupid girl who should go home, he’s piling on the insults because in Japan, ramen noodle making is a man’s art–taken seriously to the point of fanaticism. But Abby persists, she wants to be a ramen girl, so he tells her to clean.

Her little Japanese English dictionary helps them to a point–still nearly everything the ramen chef tells her goes over her head, while the audience can understand it all with the subtitles.

It’s a bruising course of study as soup pot after soup pot is dumped–the ramen girl just can’t get the spirit right, she can’t instill the ramen broth with the je-ne-sais-quois that makes it special. A grandmaster ramen maker is brought in to decide if she can inherit the noodle shop, and even though her broth is finally up to snuff, she needs more training says the wise one.

Japan is famous for having the fewest number of foreign language speakers of all countries–and as the ramen chef tries to explain the subtleties of the dish and how much of it comes from the heart, we know that Abby isn’t able to comprehend what he is saying.

Somehow, though, with perseverance, and cleaning a lot of floors, we watch as her dreams are fulfilled and she breaks through to make the perfect noodles.

Sadly, the star of this movie, Brittany Murphy, died the year after this art film came out, from complications from pneumonia and drug use, in her Los Angeles home. She was only 32 years old.