Tampopo is the story about a man who stumbles upon a struggling ramen restaurant and agrees to teach the owner how to properly prepare and serve ramen. The avant-garde nature of Tampopo creates a culinary experience that is difficult for the viewer to categorize. Tampopo consists of a complicated blend of genres that challenge the consistency that the viewer expects to encounter when watching a film. Right off the bat, Itami Juzo establishes that Tampopo will be a film of no rules when the first character speaks directly to the audience. Juzo parallels this unconventional disconnect of genres with the experience of food. Just as the viewer sees that there is no set direction of genre in the film, the viewer is also meant to see that there is no one way to experience food.
For example, there is an early scene when Gun learns the proper way to eat ramen from a master. In this scene, Juzo erases all of the common associations of ramen, and demands that the audience reconstruct their views on ramen, just as Gun is relearning how to eat it. People typically associate ramen with cheap, common food that is often eaten in a hurry. Here we see the master teaching Gun to treat the ingredients delicately and appreciatively, and to take his time eating it. There is also classical music playing in the background, which is often associated with fine dining. This music induces a formal mood that would not normally be coupled with a quick bowl of noodles. In this scene, Juzo redefines the experience of eating ramen, as well as ramen itself.
Similarly, Juzo pushes the boundaries of genre and expectations in this scene involving the Japanese businessmen in a fine French restaurant. Here we have a group of older and seemingly affluent men, with a much younger colleague amongst them. We would expect to see the older men taking pride in being ‘foodies’. We assume that they have been in the business world for the majority of their lives, and through their wealth and lifestyle, they should have acquired a palate for the finest of foods. Instead, each of the older businessmen picks the same dish of sole, without giving it much thought. To surprise us further, the only young colleague appears to know more about food as a delicacy than his older companions, and takes a long time to decide on his order. Once decided, he orders a fancy French dish, emphasizing his cultured palate. The rest of the businessmen are taken aback completely, as is the audience. We would not expect this 20 something year old to be so knowledgeable when it comes to fine dining, but he appears to take more pleasure out of food than the men twice his age. This scene challenges the view that only affluent, older people can appreciate fine food.
The bizarre blend of genres in Tampopo stresses the importance of challenging conventional ideas regarding the experience of food.