In Itami Juzo’s film Tampopo, social hierarchies are deconstructed and communities are built through the cooking and shared consumption of food. While the scene featuring the man and the oyster diver does not involve any of the main characters, or even any named characters, it is of central importance to the film because it most clearly demonstrates the idea of forging new and unorthodox social relationships through food.
The shot is framed such that the two characters share an equal amount of space onscreen and therefore are visually suggested to be equally significant. It is shot straight-on, thereby emphasizing the two people and their interaction as opposed to anything else that might be going on in the scene. The equalizing of these two players in the scene is notable if we take into account who they actually are. The man seems to be of a higher social class, judging by his attire and how he readily offers to buy one of the oysters. The woman, on the other hand, is a oyster diver, a laborer of a lower social class. However, the shot ignores these distinctions of social class, instead giving the same consideration to both the man and the woman with its equalizing camera angle and composition.
Examining the characters themselves, although their styles of dress clearly distinguish them as belonging to different social spheres, there is still a sense of similarity in the way Itami presents them. So while their styles of dress are obviously different, their color schemes coordinate. The choice of wardrobe brings them into visual unity, underlining how these two different people are brought into contact and how they connect in this scene despite their social backgrounds.
In roughly the center of the shot is the point of physical contact between the man and the woman. By placing this in the center, Itami emphasizes how these two people of different social classes come into contact through the act of eating an oyster. The two people are not only sharing food in this scene, they are sharing it in an incredibly intimate and visceral manner. Thus one of the prominent themes of Itami’s film comes through clearly in this shot. Through sharing and consuming food, people are brought together—more notably, people of disparate social classes and backgrounds are brought together, coming into literal, physical contact through the medium of food. The idea of food bridging social divides is made clear by the physical intimacy of the interaction in this shot.
Also notable is the woman’s reaction to the physical contact in this scene—it tickles, but instead of pulling away from the man, she maintains contact and reacts by laughing. This emphasizes the physicality of their interaction, but it also becomes an expression of happiness and joy at their shared experience and the bond that is created through it.
Although this particular shot may be an odd choice considering it has nothing to do with the eponymous Tampopo or any of the other main players in the narrative, this particular vignette brings the ideas of community- and relationship-building to the forefront, making it visually obvious through an intimate, tangible, physical interaction between two people of differing social classes.