Over the past century, Japan has undergone a dramatic transformation, changing from a homogenous society into a melting pot of foreign cultures. Westernization has played a critical role in this culture change, as portrayed in Juzo Itami’s Tampopo. Even though the film was created in 1985, it uniquely portrays the growth of Japan as a transnational society; Japan is strongly influenced not only by its own culture and tradition, but also by other nations from around the world. Juzo Itami creatively blends Western ideas with traditional Japanese customs through his portrayal of ramen throughout the film.
It is interesting that Juzo Itami chose ramen as thecenterpiece of the film, rather than a more traditional Japanese food like sushi or udon. Although it is often thought of as a Japanese food, it is instead a Chinese dish that arrived to Japan after World War II. Ramen serves as a metaphor to represent the complexity of Japanese modern culture as a whole; both ramen and modern Japanese culture are stereotyped as being solely traditional Japanese, yet both are what they are today because of Japan’s adaptations to foreign influences. Tampopo is unsuccessful as a ramen chef on her own. She is only able to become successful when Goro, a man dressed in Western attire and a nonchalant attitude, decides to make her his apprentice. She is finally able to create the perfect ramen after blending together the best aspects of her competitor’s ramen, just as how the Japanese have created their culture by incorporating the thoughts and ideas of other cultures. Goro also helps her to perfect her ramen, and learn to use traditional Japanese mannerisms when serving her customers. Together, they blend traditional Japanese customs with the progressive ideas of the West to create a successful restaurant.
Like ramen, Tampopo’s ramen shop also adopts Western traits in its remodel at the end of the film. At the start of the film, Tampopo’s shop has a traditional Japanese look to it, with dark wood, and low counter. The new kitchen appliances are made of stainless steel, and the walls are painted a bright white, giving the restaurant a new, cleaner appearance. The dark wood counters are replaced with new light grain wood; the only remaining traditional aspect of the ramen shop is the red curtain in the entrance of the shop saying “ramen” in katakana. The final image of the ramen shop shows a new, European looking exterior of the building with a line of people out the door. It leaves the viewer with one last shot of the ramen shop, which has found success by combining a variety of cultures together. While the Western interior and exterior cause the viewer to believe that Tampopo’s ramen has become what it is solely because of Western influence, it belies the fact that the shop also has also been influenced by Japan’s ritualistic process of noodle making, as well China’s invention of ramen. Tampopo’s ramen shop is used as a symbol of Japan’s hybrid culture of not only the Western cultures, but also the Asian societies surrounding Japan.