Tampopo, a Ramen Western Film

Spaghetti western: a western movie made in Italy (usually) with Italian actors and an American star (Webster’s Universal College Dictionary, 2004).

Is a ramen western film therefore a western movie made in Japan with Japanese actors and an American star? Why yes, yes it is (essentially) according to the film titled Tampopo directed by Itami Jūzō in 1985. Specifically, the introductory shot of the film which is an overview of Tampopo’s ramen shop, visually embodies and represents the ramen western genre in three particular manners. First off, the color scheme contrast in the clothing of the actors highlights the typical good versus evil Western theme. That is to say, Goro’s and Gun’s white clothing versus the dark clothing of Pisken and his four thugs figuratively speaking, equals good and righteousness versus evil and villainy, Western morality in a nutshell. The Western ideal of chivalry is also exhibited in the scene at hand via Goro’s defense of Tabo and Tampopo. The defense of women and children (especially of women) is a trademark theme of the spaghetti western.

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Good vs. Evil

Also, Tampopo’s ramen western nature is further made evident by the shot’s music choice. For instance, the second Goro and Gun step into Tampopo’s ramen shop, a dramatic crescendo plays reminiscent of the American old west as it is portrayed in 1960s and 1970s film. This crescendo in the moment of its rendition transforms the ramen shop into a hostile western saloon.  Accordingly, the setting is overrun with unwelcoming shadows, and the camera’s curt transitioning style foreshadows social antagonism and conflict. In addition, take note that the camera is quite stationary in the lateral sense throughout the scene. Its inactivity and/or limited movement that is carefully slow and steady, conveys a sense of caution and alarm that accurately invokes the iconic Western theme of violence. Furthermore, the ramen shop’s saloon-like nature is enhanced when Goro flings a naruto piece at Pisken in a pistol-wielding manner. Ready. Draw. Shoot.

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Ready. Draw. Shoot.

Last but not least, where is the American star in Tampopo? Answer: Goro. Mainly, Goro’s “Americaness” is stereotypically indexed by his cowboy-like garb. Also, his trucker occupation is Western/American that is to say, foreign and exotic.

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Goro, the outsider.

All in all, the film titled Tampopo (1985) directed by Itami Jūzō in many ways and instances is a Japanese rendition of the West be it comical or serious. Its ramen western attitude is a double-edged sword in fact. That is to say, Tampopo comically plays on western cultural symbols but the fact that the film’s main focus is the West exalts the West and shadows Japanese culture. Elaborating on the later point, the West, knowledge and familiarity of the West is a source of power in the film. Nonetheless, it is also a potentially destructive essence when not handled and carried out correctly (reference to the film’s French dining scene). Altogether, Tampopo’s great regard of the West (negative or positive) as a ramen western film is a comment on Japan’s past cultural insularity. Before, Japan knew something and knew nothing of the West.

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