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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Ramen Girl

Brittany Murphy plays Abby
(Photo: Daniel Case)
A couple of nights ago, as I was browsing Netflix for a lighthearted movie to watch before I fell asleep, I ran across a movie called The Ramen Girl. It was billed as lighthearted, set in Japan, and starred Brittany Murphy.

So much has changed since this movie was released in 2008. Murphy died a year later. And Japan – well you know what Japan is experiencing right now. This perfectly preserved bit of art, in which time is frozen, seemed to be just what I was looking for.

Murphy plays an American named Abby who travels to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend, Ethan. He leaves her early in the movie. The logical thing for her to do would be to return to America, but something is drawing her to stay in Tokyo.

She spots a quaint neighborhood ramen noodle house near where she is staying and she drops in one night during a rainstorm. The place is closed but the owner, a man named Maezumi signals for her to sit down. As she does, the realization that she is directionless in life overwhelms her and she begins to sob.

Maezumi is busy making her a bowl of ramen noodles when his wife, Reiko, sees Abby. Since neither Maezumi or Reiko can speak English and since Abby cannot speak Japanese, Reiko can only wonder what’s wrong with Abby.

“What happened?” Reiko says to Maezumi. “What’s wrong?” [Subtitles are in use.]

“Who the hell knows?” Maezumi says. “I guess she’s hungry.”

“Is she hurt?” Reiko says. “Do you think she needs to go to the hospital?”

“Maybe if she eats, she’ll get out of here,” Maezumi says.

Abby continues to sob at her table while Maezumi prepares her bowl of ramen noodles.

“Do foreigners eat spring onion?” Maezumi says to Reiko. “They must eat spinach.” He drops some into the bowl with the noodles. “Popeye loves spinach.”

Reiko adds what looks to be a piece of pork and Maezumi walks the bowl over to Abby.

“I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,” Abby says to a confused Maezumi. “I’m a complete mess. My cousin, Heather, just got her Ph.D. Here I am, four years out of college – Phi Beta Kappa – and I’ve got nothing to show for it. Not one single thing. And I thought I was so brave coming to Tokyo, but Ethan ... just ... left me .. and I’m, I’m ... so alone.”

“Eat,” Maezumi says. “Girlie. Eat. Eat.”

“What?” Abby says.

“What did she say?” Reiko says to Maezumi.

“No idea,” Maezumi says. “She’s a lunatic.” He hands Abby some chopsticks. “Eat, please.”

“Thank you,” Abby says.

“She’s nuts,” Maezumi says to Reiko.

“Eat,” Reiko says to Abby.

“Thank you.”

Maezumi and Reiko begin to clean up the place while Abby eats her noodles. As she finishes, her countenance is difference. She’s even able to smile. Maezumi and Reiko refuse to take any money from her for the food. She hugs Reiko and before she can leave, Maezumi stops her to give her an umbrella, which she takes.

Two simple acts of kindness – a bowl of ramen noodles and an umbrella – help her begin to pick up the pieces of her life. Maybe that’s why we do luncheons after funerals in America. Maybe that’s why friends, family members, and neighbors bring each other casseroles after a tragedy strikes. And maybe that’s why friends who have lost touch share a bottle of wine on a Sunday afternoon.

The irony of all this is that so many people in Japan at this very moment have been without food and water since the earthquake and tsunami hit. In the spirit of The Ramen Girl, maybe we could all find a way to donate a few bucks to a relief effort that will provide much needed food and water for people in desperate need.


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