Tampopo: Food and Sex

Tampopo (1985), a romantic comedy film directed by Itami Juzo is about a woman named Tampopo trying to save her ramen shop through learning how to cook and reconstructing her restaurant. Throughout the film, characters are connected through the theme of food and the film uses it to exaggerate foods as aphrodisiacs in a humorous and unconventional way.

In the beginning, we meet Goro and Gun driving in their truck while Gun reads a book about a ramen master teaching a young man how to eat ramen properly.

The Ramen Master and Pupil Caressing the Noodles

One would think that ramen is a simple noodle that is devoured in matter of minutes, but in Tampopo ramen is regarded as a delicacy. In this scene, the master tells his pupil to admire the glistening oil in the soup and to caress the noodles with their chopsticks. It gives the idea that ramen can create sexual feelings. As a result, the ramen is personified as if it can receive human emotions and understand what love and affection are. It is as if the ramen becomes a woman of their desires, to which they can enjoy their moment together.

In a later scene, we are introduced to an intimate moment between a gangster and his lover. As he begins to caress her body, he also cracks open a raw egg and places the egg into his mouth. The egg is then transferred back and forth between his and her mouth.

Egg transferred from mouth to mouth

This humorous and strange scene displays the egg as a sexual stimulator. It uses the egg to enhance pleasure, rather than to just have the egg be eaten for nourishment. Although the scene is bizarre and repulsive, it demonstrates the film’s attempt to create sexiness in an unconventional way. It‘s the odd usage of the egg that causes the audience to be intrigued and focused on the film to develop their own definition of sexy.

The same gangster appears later in the film with a different woman whom he has just met at the ocean. He asks her for an oyster and as he attempts to eat the oyster, the shell cuts his lips. He then sucks up the oyster from the woman’s hand and in response, the woman giggles and licks the blood off of his lips.

Eating the osyter from her hand

Oysters are considered to be an aphrodisiac, which in this scene causes the gangster to begin an intimate moment with the woman. This portion of the film provides the audience with another example of the sexual desires that food conjures up in humans. Food has become a form of access to fantasies and food is no longer just for survival, but rather it is also nourishment to humans’ sexual needs.

For instance, Linda Ehrlich’s Community and Connection states that “…Tampopo occupies an interim state where sex and eating are not clearly separated.” The audience is forced to analyze their food before eating it. Through the comical exaggeration of the foods’ usage, the film challenges the audience’s view of the values and possibilities with food.

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