“Breastfeeding scene” in Tampopo as a symbol of life in food consumption

Tampopo can be interpreted as a promotion of the cultural status of Japanese national cuisine, in which “food” not only acts as a biological nourishment, but a spiritual enrichment that unifies the community. In TampopoRamen can be interpreted as  a representation of tradition, and through the appreciation of the delicate preparation of ramen and the intimate pleasure it provides, Japanese society is able to restore the sense of cultural identity that is endangered during the period of rapid Westernization. As a supplementary scene to Tampopo’s story that adds to the intertextual quality of the film, the ultimate closure of the breastfeeding scene reinforces Juzo’s message and his perception of female gender role in Japanese society.

Breastfeeding scene

Breastfeeding scene from Tampopo

First, the lighting, setting, and background music in the Mise-en-scene clearly show the significance of the scene as an integral part of the film. Juzo’s intention to input a seemingly unrelated scene of breastfeeding in the credit scene indicates that he prefers an open-ended closure. In addition, the setting, symbolism and mood of the scene effectively express his positive attitude towards food consumption and the type of community it forms. The scene is set in a comfortable environment surrounded by sunshine and nature, in which the sense of ease is further reinforced by the soft, waltz-like background music. The relaxing mood of the setting starkly contrasts with the intense and formal setting of French restaurants presented previously. As the child suckles on mother’s breast and takes in the most primal form of food, the scene refers to the intimate pleasure or even the sense of life found in Japanese cuisine from other scenes, as opposed to the pretentious and deadly atmosphere evoked in the French restaurants. Therefore, Juzo believes the most genuine and spontaneous way of  appreciating food can bring vitality and growth to a community. Furthermore, the infant symbolizes life and thus embodies Juzo’s hope and expectation towards the preservation of Japanese culture, in other words:“the child has been born as a consumer into a world of consumption, but his or her life will have the freedom to develop according to the whims of the individual living it.“(Iles P.296)

More importantly, the breastfeeding scene also implicitly reveals the director’s perception of female gender role in Japanese society. Similar to the mother in this scene, other female characters are also strongly associated with preparation of food, such as Tampopo, the peasant girl and the housewife who cooked the last meal. The inevitable connection between the preparation of food and female gender role in Japan generalizes women as a provider of food. Moreover, the power of their food is not only limited to its nutritious function, but the mental nourishment, which can be seen from the genuine pleasure Tampopo’s ramen produces, the sentimental scene of the “last meal” and the sexual desire aroused from the peasant girl’s oyster. Therefore, the scene praises the significance of female for sustaining Japanese society in both biological and spiritual terms, which is embodied in the vitality and growth their food fosters, as symbolized in the power and energy given from the mother to the child in the breastfeeding scene.

In essence, despite of the lack of obvious connection to Tampopo’s main story, the breast-feeding scene serves a profound function by expressing Juzo’s appreciation of Japanese cuisine as a cultural capital that unifies the individuals through the intimate pleasure and spiritual nourishment. The setting, lightning and background music in the scene enhance such intimate mood, and the symbol of life and growth further emphasizes the power of food that brings vitality to the community.






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