The premise of this film almost seems like something they could make a 2-minute parody trailer of for SNL: Take the Karate Kid, only the protege and mentor don't speak the same language and have the mentor regularly throw pots and other objects at said protege for seemingly no reason at all. Also, rather then make the film about karate, it's about Ramen noodles (yes, the stuff in those ready-made packets for when you're too lazy to cook pasta or practically anything else) and there's a ridiculously clunky metaphor about how the protege's broth is imperfect because she has to cook it with her heart and not her head. Hey, I didn't like it the first time when it was called "Like Water for Chocolate."
As per the language barrier, I can personally testify to how dramatically unexciting one is. My maternal grandmother lived in three countries before immigrating to the United States when she was almost 60. As as her memory has faded now that she's in her 90's, so has her ability to speak English.
I love my grandmother tremendously but there's absolutely nothing remotely interesting about my interactions with her these days. It's mostly just awkwardly standing in the room with her and failing to convey a full sentence. In other words, it would be impossible to make a compelling film about two people who don't speak the same language and in this film.
In this film, it nullifies much of the more meaningful dialogue when you realize that neither of the two main characters are understanding what the other is saying.I understand that the Japanese chef DID speak a few words and their body
language went a long way, but Brittany Murphy's character, Abby, explicitly states on several occasions that she does not understand a word of her
As per the point about Ramen noodles, I've been starting to understand recently that Ramen noodles is not a company that makes packets (that's Maruchan) but a style of noodles made in East Asia. In fact, a friend of mine from college has opened a Ramen noodle shop (called Toki Underground if you're in the DC area) at a relatively young age and has recently been getting publicity for it in the local newspapers which sparked my curiosity enough to see the film in the first place.
While I'm starting to come around to the idea that Ramen is an actual serious art, it was likely that the film never found in audience in America because people didn't know that about Ramen.
Brittany Murphy even admitted in an interview that "even the title is going to confuse some people who don’t live in the big cities." The film never found a wide release distributor in the USA and isn't even listed under Box Office Mojo.
The film also reminds me of Brittany Murphy's tragic death at the age of 32 in late 2009. Murphy was a favorite actress of both Roger Ebert and myself. Ebert would often defend her movies against Roper and likened her to a young Lucille Ball in one of his reviews. If it seems like we're giving her the James Dean treatment because she prematurely died at a young age, Ebert's favorable comparison is postmarked 2003. Murphy had a sweetness and fragility in her personality that carried over to whatever parts she played and with that, her presence could make even terrible films watchable.
As per the film, it's relatively satisfying film that even packs a few surprises once you get over its clinging to a very cliched plot formula. To be fair, some of this deviation from the norm is trademark Japanese weirdness.Take your pick here: The scene where Abby and another patron are giggling hysterically, the scene where Abby starts yelling "I want to cook ramen!" like a zombie and and making the kitchen ground shake despite not touching any actual pans, or the highly casual treatment of a call girl (with a very phony high society accent) being physically abused by her pimp. And this is all in the film's first twenty minutes of the film. While this film still works in its authenticity, it can also be viewed ironically in a Mystery Science Theater kind of way. You'll just have to see it for yourself.