Sunday, March 19, 2006

Movie Review: Tampopo

United States, 1986
Running Time: 1:54
Rated: NR
Cast: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ken Watanabe, Kôji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka, Kinzo Sakura

Director: Juzo Itami
Producers: Seigo Hosogoe, Juzo Itami, Yasushi Tamaoki
Screenplay: Juzo Itami
Music: Kunihiko Murai
Studio: Itami Productions
In Japanese with English subtitles


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“Everyone has their own ladder; some climb the rungs to the top, and some don’t ever know they have one.”

Akin to a steaming bowl of noodle soup, Tampopo is satisfying, enriching, and...hilarious?! Best described as a spoof/parody/satire on the American spaghetti Western, Tampopo’s protagonist shows a shadow of Clint Eastwood, and its plot follows the familiar formula of: cowboy comes to town; cowboy saves the day. However, in this Japanese Western (if you will), the cowboy doesn’t ride into town on a lightning-quick steed; he drives a semi. Additionally, spaghetti isn’t the pasta in question; it’s hand-rolled and homemade ramen.

On a rainy night, Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki), an out-of-town trucker, develops a hankering for noodle soup and struts into the dilapidated restaurant of lady chef, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). After strongly criticizing her cooking, Goro and his friend Gun (Ken Watanabe) agree to teach Tampopo the arts of cooking and customer service. While on the quest for the perfect noodle recipe, Goro and Tampopo strive to acquire the right concoction of noodles, broth, spring onions, pork, and shinachiku (pickled bamboo shoots) to attract the hungry and stimulate the senses.

Amid the meat of the plot, a few vignettes are stuffed. While these seemingly-irrelevant scenes may first come off as nothing but dramatically pointless filling, in the long run, they are effective additives that offer generous asides on food. Be it the ordering at the business luncheon, the slurping at the etiquette seminar, or the sensual sharing of the egg yolk, each ingredient further encourages the viewer’s appetite to grow. To boot, the manner in which director Juzo Itami splices these scenes together is rewarding.

Out of all of the food films, Tampopo is perchance the most gifted. It packs in its gusto and guffaws in the most satirical of ways—keeping interest at a high. To label Tampopo the Japanese king of the food films would not be an overstatement. And to exclude Tampopo in any college colloquium film series on food would be an utter misfortune. Simultaneously, Tampopo is a cinematic and comedic delicacy for any food and/or film fan. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006