Tampopo – A Metaphor of Humble Beginnings

The young man "learns" how to eat ramen.

The young man wonders… all this for some noodles?

As Goro and Gun ride along in the truck at the beginning of the movie, we get a glimpse into a book being read. The scene in particular is of an old master of sorts essentially teaching a younger man how to exactly eat a bowl of ramen. This man has studied noodles for over 40 years. He goes into explicit detail of how the bowl should be observed, and the gestalt and aromas from the bowl should be appreciated. Every detail from the fat in the bowl to the sinking seaweed is described elegantly. This is not what one would not think of while eating an ordinary bowl of ramen. The fact that something so cheap or ordinary could be turned into something as beautiful as it is described is an underlying theme of Tampopo.

Essentially, this scene sets the stage for the story to become a sort of metaphor for beauty and elegance emerging from humble beginnings. In the old master’s bowl of ramen, pork is treated as a sacred delight, to be caressed and given affection. Revealed, is a correct way to consume what is generally considered a food for commoners. With an understanding of this metaphor, we can look at the rest of the film and appreciate how greatness can arise from practice, dedication, and learned skills.

We see Tampopo herself, unskilled, and with undesirable food. She tries, and longs to become a great chef, but ultimately falls flat. However, with her attitude and conviction to become the very best, we once again see something magnificent coming out of something with a humble beginning. Essentially, she is studying service techniques and the preparation of delicious food. Her practice turns quickly into passion, and the humble beginning she comes from turns into a glorious and respected career as a true gourmet ramen chef.

Much like the old master’s process, or trial, of eating ramen, Tampopo endured some trials of her own, including the many times she’s failed. The aspect of humble beginnings in the movie has a lot to do with experience. The man in the beginning stares in awe and wonder at the master, who is telling an entire narrative with his bowl of noodles. We can call that narrative an experience. It takes time, care, and love to appreciate all of the flavors that the bowl has to offer much like it takes those aspects to become a master of something such food in the first place. Tampopo’s trials came in the form of time, care, and love, and each had to be mastered to become a respected ramen chef just as they had to be mastered to fully enjoy the bowl of ramen in the beginning.

The theme presented here is universal. Greatness can emerge from the lowliest of chefs, so long as the effort and dedication is put in. Even a regular old bowl of ramen can be turned into something magnificent.

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