Tampopo: Food and Death

The “ramen” western comedy film, Tampopo, directed by Juzo Itami, is a movie about a ramen shop owner and her quest to perfect her ramen. More than that, there are many side plots and recurring themes. An interesting idea that finds itself in many scenes is that food overcomes death.

Scenes with ties to the theme include the dying woman making her final meal for the her family, the old rich man choking on his food, and the yakuza dying.

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The family eats as the mother passes away

In the first scene, a man runs home to his dying wife and commands her to prepare dinner. With her final movements, she sets out a wok of fried rice and slowly passes while watching her children enjoy her work. This shows the necessity and significance of food.

As the mother’s role to provide for her family, her final act is giving life to her children. Food is the energy source of people and holds a prominent stance in every culture. It brings peace and comfort to people and brightens any mood.

As she makes the food, none of her efforts were wasted: she did not speak and only relaxed when it was finished and passed away with a smile. The father respected her work by telling the children to eat and did not let any terrible thoughts enter their minds. The mother’s meal provided comfort and life in a time of pain and death. She pushed death back for a few more seconds to create her last supper.

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The rich man is served his favorite foods.

An old man’s wife warns the old man to avoid eating specific dishes because they nearly killed him before. However, because of his love for food, he eats the meal and chokes until Gun relieves him.

This is somewhat of an ironic scene. The old man disregards the warnings by his spouse and orders the foods he enjoys most. He knows that he might choke and even die from the food he eats but does not care. He just wants to live in the moment and live by eating the delicious food. In this scene, the love of food is stronger than the fear of death.

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The yakuza talks “yam sausages” he wanted to share with his lover, as he’s dying.

In the final scene, a yakuza is being shot by an unknown entity. As he lies dying on the ground, his lover rushes to him, crying. With his final words, he tells her about hunting wild boar in the winter that has intestines filled with yams.

The yakuza is affected by death’s greatest sting: regret. However, he is disappointed that he was not able to share a food experience with his lover. While death tends to break hearts by reminding people of a lack of expressing love or missing out on career opportunities, food overcame those depressed feelings.  Lying next to a boar statue, the yakuza tells his lover to remain silent as he watches his “final movie” alluding to the introductory scene.

In these three scenes, we see an overlap in message. Itami wanted to convey the powerful influence that food has and shows it by depicting scenes of food overcoming life’s greatest and final obstacle, death.

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