Tampopo: A Ramen Western

Tampopo, a Japanese food comedy with a twist on the classic, Spaghetti Western, is a light-hearted story about a single working-class mother striving to perfect her ramen recipe and revive her ramen shop. The director, Juzo Itami, utilizes food as a way of connecting issues occurring in late 1980s Japan. In particular, he focuses on ramen and overturning conventions. Ramen normally is seen as a comfort food, mostly eaten on cold, winter nights alone. However, Itami shows that ramen can also promote a sense of community and home. With ramen, he brings together the protagonist, Tampopo and Goro, along with his friend, Gun. Although, Gun and Goro are constantly traveling in their truck, they stop to teach Tampopo the art of making the perfect ramen.

This scene, in which Goro and Gun encounter Tampopo and her son for the first time and start a fight with a group of men, is the scene that I think is the most important. Not only because it starts the relationship between the protagonists, but also because of the fight scene that exemplifies Tampopo to be a self-proclaimed, ramen western.


Goro and Gun on their long journey.

In the scene, Goro and Gun stop by Tampopo’s ramen shop after their long journey on the road for a bite to eat. Elements of old Western films are seen as Gun seems to act as Goro’s sidekick and the fact that they are on the road, however not on horses like in traditional western films, but in a truck. The medium shot that is shown in the screen shot above depicts Goro and Gun through their heavily rained- on truck window. The book that Gun holds could mean that they have been traveling for quite a long time. From their attire, they appear to be of lower class and the hat that Goro wears is also symbolic of the West.


screenshot 2

The gang leader is hit in the face by a naruto.

The scene continues as the duo enters Tampopo’s ramen shop and encounters a group of men who harass Tampopo. The leader of the group, as shown above, irritates Goro to the point where Goro flicks a piece of naruto (cured fish often served in ramen) at his face. The close-up shot of this at a somewhat low angle shows the emotional approach of the action. It makes the scene a lot more emphasized as well as comedic and dramatic, especially when the piece of naruto is stuck on his face. Goro demonstrates heroism in this scene, another element in Western movies, when they choose to start a fight with the harassers soon after.


Tampopo and her son watch the fight from their ramen shop.

The fight is taken outside the ramen shop where in this shot, Tampopo and her son are huddled together watching the fight from their shop. It is interesting how the main action was not shown and the director wanted to focus on the emotions of Tampopo and her son instead. Itami probably wanted to illustrate the importance of family and community as a sort of precursor to the audience in the beginning of the movie.


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