Noodles and Lives: Contrast Makes a Comedy Comedy

Tampopo is a comedy about food adventure. Several people try to bring a widow and her closing down ramen shop a new life. After joint efforts Tampopo’s ramen shop is transferred to a highly rated and appreciated one in the area, having lots of customer while edging other competitors. In the comedy, the director often exaggerates the situation and uses strong contrast to surprise the audience. It is perfectly reflected in the movie Tampopo, as many of the scenes seem not so realistic and end up with what we don’t expect. When it comes to food, Tampopo is not implicit like most of the eastern movies do. Instead, it is explicit to the theme just as the western movies.


The contrast of expression makes it funny.

The most representativeness scene is the businessmen’s dinner. It is straightforward to the food, with no redundant pre-narration. The scene starts with six businessmen pass by Tampopo after she finishes her exercise in the park. Five of the six people walk with their head up and hand empty, while the remaining one carries several suitcases and follows the others. This makes us aware that the last man is just an assistant while the others have higher reputation. We can also infer their rankings in the firm based on the position they walk, as the first one is probably the boss. Next the scene changes to the French restaurant, with the shot from downwards to the top, implying the luxurious and its status. The assistant accidently drops the suitcase on the ground, making his manager angry and beat him on the back. Then the assistant even tries to sit before his superiors do, so his manager has to drag him until all the others sit. These all give an idea that the assistant might be a careless, green and inexperienced office rookie. When the menu opens, it surprises all the businessmen, as well as us audience, as it’s all in French. It is exaggerated as normally no restaurant will write menu in foreign language completely. When the waiter takes the order, the first man waits until his boss orders, and then orders the same stuff. Then surprisingly all the other people order the same food. One reason may be they don’t know what the menu means, while the other reason may be that they have to follow what their boss orders as a reflection of hierarchy in Japanese culture. What seems sharp-fanged, however, is that they all order fish, meat soup and beer. It’s a satire of the wired combination as usually people will not order beer but wine in this situation. Next, when we think that the young assistant might have learned his lesson and will order the same food, he surprises us again by turning from an office rookie into a professional foodie. He has even been to Taillevent, a very high-class French restaurant in Paris. No doubt he seems to know everything about French food. In terms of French food, he is senior than anyone in the room. When he orders something different, everyone begins to stare at him, while his manager keeps kicking him under the table. One exaggerated shot is the assistant’s manager keeps winking and making signs to him when he’s ordering. The close-up shot zooms Juzo Itami’s uncomfortable about the hierarchy in Japanese culture. Then, the medium shot pust both the assistant and his manager together, and we can see the different expressions on their faces: what a contrast! In the end, every other businessman feels ashamed and lowers their head, which is another contrast to the beginning, where they all walk with their head up. It’s funny to see the embarrassing atmosphere in the room, as it is a strong contrast to the previous image every person leaves us: five successful businessmen and one rookie assistant. This kind of contrast points out Juzo Itami’s challenge about the tradition idea of hierarchy in Japan. In Japan, the younger generation follows senior’s decision to show their respect and revere. However, Juzo tries to express the idea that everyone is equal in front of the food and you don’t need necessarily to be in a higher social class to enjoy better food. We don’t need to think too much to get this. It is straightforward, explicit and obvious through the contrasts.

This is the result of challenging traditional.

Japanese tries to improve perfect from the best on every single aspect, and this attitude goes beyond the thing itself and evolves into a kind of art. Juzo Itami integrated the art of food with the comedy genre perfectly to make the movie Tampopo. It is not a typical eastern movie; with the western more open attitude, this combined experience suggests a different side of food.



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