Tampopo’s main sequence opens with a vignette where a ramen master mindfully has a bowl of ramen noodles, which vividly captures the essence of the film. Film director Itami revisits ramen noodles, a homely Japanese food that had since been disregarded, to remind the audience the joy of appreciating simple cooking. Japanese traditional home cooking has suffered from marginalization after the boom of haute cuisine during the transition between the high-speed economic growth era and the bubble economy. The scene of the master having a bowl of ramen noodles in a mindfully aware manner demonstrates to the audience the pleasures of having a simple, well-prepared dish. It is the same appreciation of good ramen that leads protagonist Tampopo to pursue the art of its careful and crafted preparation, later deciding to serve this simple but delicious dish to the people of her community. Mindful awareness deconstructs the social status associated with food, allowing the diner to appreciate food in its purest form, and help the diner recognize art and comfort in daily cooking.
The main plot of the film tells the story of protagonist’s pursuit of serving a delicious bowl of ramen. In the film, Itami illustrates ramen as a mundane food, as opposed to the high-class French cuisine the five businessmen have in another scene. By making a contrast between ramen and French cuisine, Itami points out that anyone can enjoy a well-prepared delicious bowl of ramen, while French cuisine may be inaccessible to many diners due to its perceived elite nature. This can delude the diner with the social status the food is associated with, preventing the diner from enjoying food for the sake of it. By revisiting and valuing mundane ramen noodles, Itami attempts to deconstruct the social status associated with food and advocates for the appreciation of cooking in a pure form. By choosing a simple food like ramen noodles, Itami suggests that appreciation of food is universal and doesn’t necessarily require affluence and class to enjoy a deep and satisfying dining experience.
The ramen master’s mindful and deliberate experience with his ramen is instructive to the audience; Itami is clearly advocating a simple yet deep approach to consuming food. By being fully aware of the bowl of ramen in front of him, the master can truly appreciate his food. He suggests the man accompanying him to examine the food, to appreciate the food as a whole, and then examine the components and notice the details while savoring the aroma. The mise-en-scène of the ramen bowl has a crucial function in the scene to captivate the audience. The bowl of ramen is first shot in a lower angle close-up shot, capturing the savory details of the bowl, and then the camera slowly and gently rotates the angle up to a bird-eye’s shot in order to capture the gestalt of the dish. This scene depicts the details of the noodle bowl, how the soup glitters, how the shinachiku shines, how the seaweed is deliciously absorbing the soup, how the green onions are placed on top, and lastly how the pork modestly hide itself despite it plays a key role in the dish. The master also suggests the other man to gently caress the noodles before eating them. The vivid description of the ramen noodles not only causes one of the characters in the film to crave the noodles, but also likely the audience as well. Examining, smelling, caressing, and tasting, all these actions completes the art of appreciating food and allows the diner to have the full experience of eating ramen noodles. Itami suggests that staying mindfully aware of the food presented will provide a holistic experience in dining.