Tampopo is a film that revolves around food, including its consumption and its production. Throughout the film, many of the characters focus on the proper way to prepare, consume, and enjoy food, treating the entire process as art and as an intellectual pursuit. However, there is one scene that provides a basic theme that should be one of the main messages taken away by viewers: food is not only meant to be a piece of culture or art, but first and foremost, it is meant to be enjoyed.
In this scene, a straight-laced female teacher addresses many younger women who are arranged formally around a table in the corner of a French restaurant. She demonstrates the “proper” method of consuming spaghetti, picking up a few strands with her fork, twirling them around the spoon, and noiselessly slurping them into one’s mouth. At the same time that these proper girls are learning to eat spaghetti, an overweight and jolly-looking American businessman has ordered spaghetti across the room and is humorously slurping while the teacher is asking them not to make noise. His slurping is so convincing that one by one all the women begin to slurp and gobble down their noodles, even eventually the teacher. This scene is in stark contrast to the earlier ideas presented in the film of enjoying food by taking one’s time and ceremony. Instead, the businessman shows that food can be enjoyed quickly and even impolitely, as long as it is enjoyable.
This scene also makes a cultural statement, which addresses the idea that Western food is more high class than local Japanese food, so it has to be enjoyed in the proper way. This Westerner is directly showing the Japanese etiquette instructor that Westerners can be just as eager to eat good food and that they treat their food in a normal human way just as the Japanese do. In showing that a Westerner can be sloppy and carefree when appreciating a meal, Itami shows that food is just that, food. Just as various native Japanese throughout the film hastily and happily scarf down their local food, this businessman does the same with his familiar meal. In addition, the fact that the etiquette teacher understands that what she has been taught is immediately incorrect when she sees the American man’s behavior implies that overthinking the process of eating is unnatural, not in human nature. This goes along with the idea that that comes up throughout the entire film, the idea of the pleasure of food as universal and human. Food, though it varies from culture to culture, is part of the human experience. It is vital to social interaction, which is the basic necessity for society to exist. Though it is apparent that food can be an important symbol of cultural identity, the fact that every society values food, in general, is proof of its significance. Though this scene presents the idea of food as cultural power in the beginning (the Japanese are learning the proper way to eat spaghetti in an attempt to Westernize), it ends with the opposite idea. All people enjoy food and accept its value as a social tool. We are more alike then we are different.