The Power of Food

Tampopo is a film consisting of vignettes that display various themes that frame the main storyline of a woman, Tampopo, and her mission to create and serve the best ramen in her town with the help of others. One of the central themes presented in the film surrounds classism, social hierarchy, and economic hierarchy. The scene below, therefore, is significant in illustrating director Itami Juzo’s attempt of showing that food is the great equalizer of power and superiority is not necessarily accompanied by knowledge in all subjects; for example, the case in Tampopo being knowledge of French delicacies.

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The waiter compliments the young man because of his knowledge of French cuisine while the young man’s boss is visibly irked.

This particular scene begins with the young man on the left of the screen making several mistakes and getting reprimanded by the older man on the far right, implying immediately that the young man is inferior to the older man of a superior position and host of the business-related dinner. As the waiter is taking orders, the older businessmen all order the same static meal, possibly out of ignorance about French food or maybe they all simply wanted the same food. Nevertheless, the young man who appears to be a clumsy fool in fact has an immense knowledge and experience with French cuisine that is apparent while ordering and interacting with the waiter, much to the older man’s shock and embarrassment as seen in the screenshot.

The events within this scene humorously signify that food is a universal item which possesses a surprising power that enables even people of a low rank or status to also gain some of that superiority they may lack in social or economic spheres. The young man is an “underdog-like” character that ultimately uses his wealth of western cuisine knowledge to undermine the boss’s demeaning actions towards him and the boss’s own rank, whether the young man did so intentionally or not. Through the course of the dinner, the older men become inferior at the hands of the food-knowledgeable young man. The audience can infer from the scene that the older man is possibly knowledgeable in solely business subjects, but obviously is not informed in a well-rounded sense.

The mise-en-scene also portrays the role reversal through the characters’ body language. The young man gives much more care and pensiveness as opposed to the bosses, who simply appear to skim through the menu with little respect or appreciation for the menu selection. The facial expression of the older man is visibly irked and knows that the young man is actually presenting himself in a superior manner, especially to the waiter who even openly affirms the young man as “well-informed.” The above screenshot holds significance in the film by proving that food is capable of transforming traditional hierarchical roles completely. Also, it is evident that such traditional hierarchical roles do not exactly correlate with the quantity of knowledge about vast subjects, such as international food. Even throughout Tampopo, Itami Juzo portrays food as holding soft power that has an impact in a wide variety of settings.

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