Woks Abalzing: Tampopo’s Journey to Ramen Perfection

Picture this: A cowboy walks into a bar guns blazing shooting everybody in sight.  That does not really happen in the Japanese comedy, Tampopo (1985), instead, imagine a cook with her pots and pans blazing hot feeding everybody in sight.  Tampopo has many similarities with Western movies especially the spirit and struggle of the new frontier.  In Tampopo, the new frontier is the revolution of food and dining.

The story has multiple plots occurring simultaneously.  However, the most prominent of the plots is the story of Tampopo and her struggle to be the best ramen cook.  Tampopo is initially completely oblivious to the quality of her ramen soup.  One rainy night, Goro, a cowboy looking truck driver, enters her store and along with his coworker judges and critiques Tampopo’s food, which introduces the main conflict.  Tampopo and Goro work together to improve her soup and eventually form a group of five people, Goro included, to review and judge the quality of her soup.  In the end, Tampopo masters the art of ramen soup and owns a renovated restaurant stuffed with customers.

During Tampopo’s quest to find and perfect the ideal recipe, she is given advice from professionals.  The “old master” eventually ends up teaching Tampopo and basically personifies the soup, while teaching her the meticulousness of the process of making ramen soup.  By doing so, he puts an emphasis on the importance of a meal and its corresponding ingredients.  Not only does Tampopo have to put the ingredients together, but she also has to carefully do everything properly with the intent of preserving the integrity of the foods.

The "old master" teaches his pupil, Tampopo, by personifying the soup.

Tampopo’s predicament illustrates the importance of food in Japanese society.  In the movie, she pays little attention to her son.  Her road to ramen perfection triumphs the appropriate interaction with her son.  After starting on her ambitious investigation, the viewer never really see Tampopo help her son with his bullying issues.  In fact, we rarely see them in a scene together.  Basically, her predicament shows that food is a high priority in Japanese society.

The master teaches his apprentice the appropriate way to eat and fully appreciate soup.

In the subplots of the movie, there are scenes that are indicative of the importance of food.  In one scene, a food “master” tells an apprentice how to eat his ramen soup, with extreme care and affection.  He tells his apprentice that he must “caress the surface”.  In another scene, a man in white suit is using food as an aphrodisiac agent.   Both the man in a white suit and the “master” eat their food with as much affection as they treat a lover.   They prove that foods are not merely to be eaten, but rather appreciated and loved.  To them, the destination (getting full from a meal) is less important than the path (actually eating and enjoying).

Tampopo has the western element of pioneering that is applied in the idea of food enjoyment.   Food was more of a chore than a hobby.  Before, food was not enjoyed, but now it is apparent that food can become more luxurious and enjoyable.  Tampopo illustrates different ways to enjoy food ranging from sexual purposes to aroma therapy.  Regardless, Tampopo successfully brings food from behind the curtains into the spotlight.

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