Spaghetti Eating and False Perceptions of Western Culture

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Taken in three-shot style, The Spaghetti Instructor begins her lesson on how

to properly eat Spaghetti

Jūzō Itami’s 1985 comedy film, Tampopo, contains a volley of scenes which display the clash of culture between the society of the “West” and the society of a modernizing Japan. Within such masterpiece of cinematography, a scene arises in which the classic “how-to” scenario is portrayed with the topic of eating spaghetti. This scene, taken primarily in master shot, exhibits middle-aged Japanese women who seek to be a part of a high society culture, one of which involves knowledge of Western cuisine and etiquette. In beginning her lesson, the course instructor repeatedly emphasizes the need for one to quietly consume their spaghetti.  

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 In long-shot method, a European Westerner is both seen and heard to be

loudly slurping on his Spaghetti

Shortly following the instructor’s warning/advice, a loud slurping noise interjects, leading to a camera shift to a single long-shot of a Westerner eating his spaghetti. In doing so, Itami effectively destroys all prior notions of proper Western etiquette. The underlying significance of the scene is revealed to be the disparity of perceptions and reality of the Japanese people. In a larger sense, Itami may be alluding to just how lost and misinformed Japan is; as Japan, as a country, has yet to assimilate to the strength and greatness of Western Society.

In the following scenes, the students follow after the Westerner rather than the instructor as they carelessly slurp their noodles. Itami causes the instructor to seem even further misled and ridiculous as the proceeding shots display several students, one after another, loudly enjoying the spaghetti. The scene, while very comedic, can be seen to possibly criticize Japan’s lack of action and immediacy with regards to the following of the more sophisticated and powerful countries of the time such as France, Great Britain, and Russia. By emphasizing the noise and seemingly barbaric style of eating noodles, Itami can be interpreted to turn his back on much of Japan’s older customs which do not involve such Western styles of dining.

In relating back to Tampopo as a whole, there exists a parallelism between eating Ramen (Japanese Noodles) and eating Spaghetti (Western Noodles). The two cultures hold a similar ground or basis as they both consume noodles, yet at the same time are very different as they have different preparations and etiquette in relativity to their noodles. In interpreting such basis, Itami may be inferring that Japan as a country is actually not that far from the greatness and power of the West. Simple changes in custom and culture could thus allow Japan to rise as a nation to the esteemed superpowers of the time.  

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In Wide-angle view, the entire room of Japanese women (including the 

instructor) are loudly slurping their Spaghetti

With the conclusion of the scene, the instructor, herself, follows after the Western Businessman showing a shift in ideals and customs for all the Japanese people in the room (for Japan as a whole). Food, being a cultural capital in such consumerist era, is able to properly display the transgression between Japanese Culture and Western Culture. The final moments of the scene display that the willingness of Japan to assimilate and change shall allow Japan to ascend beyond many of the Asian Countries that were being occupied at the time, as Japan does not preside solely on old customs and culture.  

 

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