Tampopo (1985, Itami J没z么)

Tampopo is a cinematic appreciation of Japanese food culture. Writer and director Itami also has some love of cinema things, but it鈥檚 all about the food. Even when it鈥檚 played for humor. Or for nurturing. Or for sex. Sexy foodstuffs abound in Tampopo.

But Tampopo is also this traditional narrative. It鈥檚 a Western鈥檚 narrative, but it鈥檚 a narrative. Truck drivers Yamazaki Tsutomu and Watanabe Ken intercede on the behalf of a woman鈥檚 honor (regarding her position as the owner-operator of a ramen shop). It鈥檚 Shane, okay? I didn鈥檛 realize it until the end but it鈥檚 Shane. You don鈥檛 think a lot about the narrative because it鈥檚 very reserved, sort of muted. The humor鈥檚 easier and less ambitions.

Miyamoto Nobuko is the woman. She鈥檚 also Tampopo. She鈥檚 a widow, with a kid, a suitor, the failing business, questionable ramen cooking talent. Yamazaki agrees to help her learn. He sets up assorted, eclectic instructors and occasionally bewildering, always entertaining lessons. And he falls for Miyamoto, but he鈥檚 just a traveling man. Or is he?

There鈥檚 no question about Miyamoto鈥檚 shop eventually being successful. It鈥檚 just how long it will take. The film starts not with the main cast but with Yakusho K么ji. He鈥檚 sitting down to watch a movie with his lady friend (Shinoi Setsuko). He likes movies and food. No talking during movies, as someone finds out. But eating during movies is fine. Just quietly.

Then Itami kicks off the main plot with some didactic structuring. But it turns out to just be a mold. He doesn鈥檛 keep it. He keeps the same kind of asides, just without the overlay. The asides (because sketches would require cameos and everything else seems to need quotation marks)鈥搒o, the asides. These asides have no narrative requirements. Itami can do whatever he wants. Or can get an actor to do involving an egg yolk. Tampopo is a lot. It鈥檚 also brilliantly edited by Suzuki Akira. Suzuki鈥檚 got to have showy cuts to match the content because Itami鈥檚 always matching intensity with content. There鈥檚 a tension between the two and it gives Tampopo its anticipatory energy.

That energy stays consistent throughout. Suzuki and Itami keep the same pace during the main plot scenes as they do the asides. It鈥檚 really cool.

Great photography from Tamura Masaki and music from Murai Kunihiko. The film never gets long, the asides stay fresh. The acting is great.

Yamazaki takes Miyamoto through the urban landscape鈥揵ecause even if it鈥檚 a Western, it鈥檚 still set in a big city鈥搕o find the instructors. There鈥檚 Kat么 Yoshi, a former ramen-master burnt out, and noodle-man Sakura Kinz么. Wanatabe is around a bit. And Yasuoaka Rikiya is the guy who鈥檒l be there for Miyamoto when the open road calls to Yamazaki and he abandons her, the shop, and the kid.

The kid who鈥檚 uncredited?

Anyway. It all works. It鈥檚 delightful. Itami falls back on broader humor whenever he wants to hurry a scene, but it鈥檚 fine. They鈥檙e good laughs, they鈥檙e just at the expense of character development. Itami, Suzuki, Tamura, and Murai do phenomenal work. And the actors are good too, but none of them get to do phenomenal work because no character development. Not even for an Audie Murphy Western much less Shane. Spoof and homage have definite limits.

They also kill a little turtle onscreen. So. I鈥檓 not down with that. I don鈥檛 want to talk about it, but, no. Uh uh.

Still, it鈥檚 a rather good movie.



Written and directed by Itami J没z么; director of photography, Tamura Masaki; edited by Suzuki Akira; music by Murai Kunihiko; produced by Hosogoe Seigo, Tamaoki Yasushi, and Itami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Yamazaki Tsutomu (Gor么), Miyamoto Nobuko (Tampopo), Yakusho K么ji (Man in White Suit), Watanabe Ken (Gan), Yasuoka Rikiya (Pisuken), Sakura Kinz么 (Sh么hei), Kat么 Yoshi (Noodle-Making Master), 脭taki Hideji (Rich Old Man), and Kuroda Fukumi (Man in White Suit’s Mistress).

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