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A sweet nothing, with a heart that just about redeems the film for all the faults it contains. It's a story of displacement, cultural shift, and the love of food, that is sometimes fun to watch, but doesn't compare with some other films that one immediately thinks of when watching this. Udon (2006) was a lot more fun, quirky, and deeper in its appreciation of noodle soups. Big Dreams, Little Tokyo (2006) was a lot funnier and provided a more interesting cultural view of Japan Vs. America. It was also better written and made. Finally, Lost In Translation (2003) remains in a league of its own, mostly because of its cast which was so pitch perfect.
In this film, we follow Abby (Brittany Murphy) who just moved to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend. She has a job she hates, but the promise of a new land, and her boyfriend,make up for it. However, this doesn't last. One day, her boyfriend simply dumps her to move away for a better job. She is left stuck on her own in Tokyo, until one day, she stumbles across a noodle (Ramen) shop. Like a revelation, she decides she wants to learn how to cook Ramen and rudely imposes herself on the restaurant's owner and cook Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida). What follows is a confrontation of cultures and expectations, until Abby matures and discovers her inner talent.
The film is written ok, with a few funny moments, and some tenderness throughout. It is not sappy at all, but tender, as we watch the big doe-eyed immature and bubbly Abby fight it off with the older grumpy and intimidating Maezumi. The biggest issue throughout though is that she doesn't speak any Japanese, and he doesn't speak any English. Yet, they engage in long monologues at one another, and fruitless conversations that as if by miracle, still leads to twists and turns in the development of the story. There is such a strong language barrier throughout the film between the characters that most of the denouements feel unnatural and forced. I had a real hard time believing that the characters understood each other and the key moments where the plot moved forward suffered as a result.
I also had a big problem with Brittany Murphy. Her role as the spoiled American brat was good, but as someone who is growing up and maturing as she becomes a Ramen chef simply didn't remain believable to me. It's a physical thing: her big doe eyes, her voice... To me, it's just not conducive to a character on a journey to personal growth and maturity. I didn't think she pulled it off and most of the movie instead rests on Toshiyuki Nishida's shoulders as it turns in a great performance.
This is not a bad movie, and has some genuine tender moments. But overall, the faults are too big to lift the movie above others in its class. If you want something light and consumable, but immediately forgotten, then this film may be a good choice. If you want something with more substance, try the other 3 films i mention at the begining of this review.
- Laurent Hasson