The Connection Between Food and Death

Itami Juzo’s Tampopo is a ramen Western masterpiece. While Juzo utilizes ramen to tell the rags to riches story of a widow named Tampopo, he also tells several side stories revolving around the common topic of food and its importance in all aspects of life. In three of the vignettes, the powerful connection between food and death is explored.

The first vignette features an old man so stubborn about eating his favorite foods that nearly dies. The three foods he orders, shiruko (sweet red bean porridge) with mochi (pounded rice), kamonamban (buckwheat noodles with duck and onions) and tempura soba (buckwheat noodles with fried seafood and vegetables) are the exact foods his mistress warns him not to order because he had a close call in the past. As a result, he chokes on mochi and is ultimately saved by the restaurant staff’s efforts of vacuuming it out of his throat. This scene emphasizes the importance of food and the fact that for some people, they will risk their lives to enjoy the food they love.

Another vignette features a very sickly woman at home with her doctor, nurse and children. The husband frantically rushes home and then proceeds to try to restore her through urging her to do anything to avoid death. Finally he orders her to make dinner. To this, she responds by actually getting up and preparing dinner. However, as soon as she serves the meal, she collapses, dead. The two points of significance here are the fact that the mother is too weak to sing or indicate any forms of life, other than to use her last bit of energy to make food. In addition, the mother, when confronted with an inescapable death, chose to show her love for her family by creating one last meal for them. While the mother is laying on the floor dead by the dinner table, the father yells at the kids to eat their mother’s last meal while it is still warm. Although this may appear insensitive right at the time of her death, it simply to honor her and show their love of food they had been so fortunate to receive from her.

One vignette towards the end features a yakuza (Japanese gangster) who has been shot several times and is dying a painful death on a rainy day out on a street. His mistress comes and instead of talking about all the times they enjoyed together or their love, the yakuza solely speaks about hunting wild boars in winter. He goes into depth about how they only eat yams and therefore, you silt open their belly’s and cook yam sausages over a fire. The only mention of the word “love” at this time of death is when he says “I would have loved to eat them with you.” Juzo is telling the audience that the yakuza saying he would have loved to eat them with her was the strongest sense of love he could communicate. In essence, food and love are synonymous.

As the yakuza is dying, his final words are of the yam sausages he loves.

These three scenes reveal the fact that when faced with death, humans look towards food. This could mean that they risk death for a favorite food, or create one final meal of food for their family, or even when death is inevitable, hold their final thoughts on the food they love.

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One response to “The Connection Between Food and Death

  1. It’s a great film. If you happen to have a list of the soundtrack, which suits the three parts so well, please let me know.

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