08
May
22

Tampopo

Andrew and I recently watched Tampopo, a much beloved film directed by Jûzô Itami starring his wife and frequent collaborator Nobuko Miyamoto as Tampopo herself. It was originally released in 1985, but it is currently streaming through the Criterion Collection alongside a whole retrospective of other Itami films that I’m excited to watch too. I’ve really loved this movie for many years, although it had been a long time since I’d watched it and Andrew hadn’t seen it before, so it was nice to be able to re-discover this multi-course meal of a comedic film.

The movie is almost an essay collection meditating on the centrality of food in our lives, filled with brief, little vignettes interspersed like little amuse bouches in between bites of the main dish of the central plot. There are flashes that reminded me of The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie by Luis Bunuel, Tardi’s Mon Uncle series, In the Realm of the Senses, Rocky, the Magnificent Seven, and Gekiga-style manga in the way it dices together humor, eroticism, and pathos into a delicious, fluffy omurice combo.

The central plot revolves in particular around a hapless chef trying to master the difficult art of the perfect bowl of ramen that happy diners will drain to the last soulful drop of broth. Luckily she has a dream team of ramen aficionados like a very straight version of Queer Eye for the Chef Lady, who come together to help her make over her culinary skills, her restaurant, and even her chef outfits. The result is a delightful journey that I can’t help but feel helped to inspire a whole legion of Japanese culinary-themed manga, shows, and films such as the Drops of God, Oishinbo, Giant Spider and Me, Samurai Gourmet, and Midnight Diner, just to name a few of my favorites. Itami really deftly balances the serious technical ability and passion that the characters pour into ramen against a lovely sense of the absurd that keeps the whole endeavor feeling like a real hero’s journey for the title character.

If you’re looking for a movie that will leave you in a good (though possibly also very hungry) mood, I highly recommend bellying up to the Tampopo ramen bar.


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