Tampopo is a film directed by Juzo Itami, featuring the many aspects and ways to interpret and view food. The movie develops on a main storyline in which Goro, a truck driver, and his friend Gun, just so happened to stop by a ramen shop. The film focuses on Goro deciding to help the ramen shop owner, Tampopo, to improve her techniques in making ramen and to save her business from dying. Together, and with the help of others, they went through many kinds of hardships and challenges as she gradually sharpens her ramen-making skills. Other than the central narrative, many seemingly random and sometimes absurd sub-vignettes are also incorporated into Tampopo as another way for Juzo Itami to illustrate the food motif. One of the recurring themes in this movie is the power of and dedication given to food.
In one of the subplots of Tampopo, in which it depicts a young subordinate accompanying a group of seemingly sophisticated and highly regarded businessmen to a very elegant French restaurant. While in the restaurant, as each of the highly regarded businessmen order the same meal after one another,
it was revealed that they apparently do not have any refined knowledge regarding high-class western cuisine. However, when it was the young subordinate’s turn to order, despite his superior’s repeated subtle kicks, he demonstrated his highly cultivated experience in French cuisine by asking the waiter a lot of high knowledge questions and ordering the most expensive dish. In Japan, ignoring a superior’s order is the most disrespectful action possible, but for food, the young subordinate chooses to disregard his superior’s instruction and potential consequences. This illustrates the power of food, enough to even prompt a subordinate to commit one of the most disrespectful actions in Japanese culture.
The power of and dedication to food also appears in another sub story of Tampopo. In this vignette, a businessman is hurrying back to his house to see his dying wife. Right when he arrives home and sees his wife, she is already on her deathbed, viewed as extremely weak and would die at any moment. Nevertheless, the businessman, scared of his wife dying, instructs her to prepare a meal for the family. For the sake of food, even if it is her last breath, the wife used her last bit of energy to cook the family one last meal. The minute the husband praises her for the deliciousness of the food, she smiled and seemed to have died peacefully.
An interesting aspect to point out here is that before when the wife is on her deathbed, she seems to have no emotion; however, when she dies after finish preparing the meal, she looks satisfied. This shows that the wife is very dedicated to food; even when she could die at any moment, she still pulls through until she finishes cooking.
The subplot that features the gangster’s dying moment again explains the theme of the power of and dedication to food. In this scene, as the gangster dies in the
arms of his mistress, his apparent last words were describing the time when they had the delicious boars and the process of hunting them and grilling them. Rarely does a person mention food as he/she is dying; usually it is about a precious message or momentous moment during his/her lifetime that he/she greatly misses. It demonstrates that the power of food even allows a person to reminiscent about food and regard food as the most important thing as he/she is dying.
Lastly, in the main narrative of Tampopo attempting to save her ramen shop, the recurring theme of this dedication to food is manifested here as well. Throughout
the whole movie, Tampopo, trying her hardest through her training, is willing to do anything to perfect her technique for making ramen. Two scenes that especially strike out to me are when she has to run and lift the water-filled heavy pot from side to side to build up her strength. For food, she is willing to go to such length; her actions display her dedication for food and how the power of food is able to enable a person to have such strong mindset.
In conclusion, Juzo Itami cleverly incorporated many themes regarding food to Tampopo, in which one of the important themes is the repeating reference of the power of and the dedication to food.