There’s a Time and Place for Food in Tampopo

Itami Juzo’s Tampopo is a comical “ramen” western which exhibits the expectations and appreciation of food in Japanese life. The main frame story concerns a widow Tampopo striving to turn her failing noodle shop into a successful business. Scattered vignettes address other people and their attitudes toward food. The varying narratives in the film demonstrate how enjoying food creates a unique space for respite from daily life.
An early scene illustrates the contrast between eating and daily life. When the truck drivers stop at Tampopo’s joint, they see Pisuken drunkenly complaining. At first, they ignore him and eat in peace. The peace dissolves quickly when Pisuken starts arguing, disrupting their otherwise quiet meal. In annoyance, Goro flicks a piece of food at Pisuken’s face. This act of striking back signifies his values: just as Pisuken attacked with insults, he attacks with (and shares) food. One may interpret the deed as an attempt to make Pisuken understand mealtime as a setting of communion and ease, not bickering. Thus, he requests to take the fight outside. Before the fight, Goro calmly finishes his soup which contrasts with the surrounding rough scuffling. Even when he subtly elbows someone, the calm atmosphere around him is unbroken and he enjoys his food as if nothing happened. After finishing, he pauses pensively before slowly standing to leave the relaxed mealtime environment. This scene reveres eating as an almost sacred ritual, and even the surrounding men back off and observe.

Goro calmly finishes his soup before heading out to fight.

In a vignette, a young man in a group of prominent-looking businessmen expresses his passion for food at a seafood restaurant. Oddly, the older men all hastily order the same items. They have serious or bored expressions, and it is evident the restaurant is a mere business setting to them, picked only for the business’s reputation. In contrast, the seemingly despised youth shows his true colors here; taking his time to thoughtfully order and describe the French dishes, he illustrates his vast culinary knowledge. He exemplifies how thinking of food is another form of enjoying it. Moreover, he dives into his own foodie world, detached from business and untouchable by ignorant, hypocritical gentlemen. It allows him to elevate his character above the others and call the restaurant home, and thus ignore the comical kicks, grimaces, and other displays of embarrassment by his party.

Even in the gravest of situations, food still commands its own attention, seen by the story where a mother cooks one last meal before dying. Itami juxtaposes an enjoyable dinner environment with death, creating a comedic effect. During the meal, the family concentrates on eating and there is little other noise than the clatter of chopsticks. For this moment, all other concerns are forgotten, displaying how eating is an escape from life. They even do not see the mother teetering into death. When she collapses, reality hits hard: the girls start bawling, the father yells at them to eat, and only the men painfully wolf the food down. The dinnertime atmosphere vanishes and they can no longer eat properly. After this significant meal, they will no longer be able to break from everyday life.

Family gratefully eats Mom's last cooked meal.

Through these three situations, Itami conveys appreciation of food as a unique, revered dedication separate from daily life.

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