Tampopo as Modern Ubasuteyama

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Park, Modern Ubasuteyama

The scene where Tampopo meets the group of homeless represents the important theme of Tampopo; Nostalgia towards ‘Ninjyô (人情, humanity)’.

This scene starts by showing the low social status of homeless men by using a shot from Tampopo’s view, that represents the view of society, and locating the homeless men on the lower part of the screen. In addition, the dark lighting strengthen the feeling of homeless men as ‘Hikagemono (日陰者, Shade-People)’. The scene also shows the natural attitude of Japanese people toward these men by showing the facial expression of Tampopo who first hesitates getting to know them. The dimension of Tampopo as an average Japanese adult at that time also shows that Tampopo is not merely saint but a human.

Although the homeless men are written as socially lower rank, their emotional relationships are highly valued. For example, when Sensei parts from the homeless group to be a master of Tampopo, they sing the traditional Japanese graduation song. This song shows the strong bond between homless men, and possibly stimulates the audiences’ nostalgia by reminding them their schooldays. In the end of the scene, there is a transition using the swipe of the camera from the dark park to the bright tall hotel. On one hand, the contrast shows the social hierarchy of Yakuza and homeless. However, on the other hand the scene shows the reversal of ethical hierarchy between them by comparing the heartwarming homeless with the moral corruption of Yakuza in the following scene.

Furthermore, homeless have sophisticated knowledge on cuisine, which creates ambiguity on their low status. Although they might be ‘useless’ in the context of social life, as Goro rely on them, they have huge roles in local life. This usefulness of the ‘useless’ people recalls ‘Goinkyo ご隠居)’, or old man, in old Japanese literature. Since Goinkyo usually refer to retired old men, they would be regarded useless in the generation of mass production; nevertheless, they used to be respected because of their knowledge and experience. Itami utilizes the traditional image of the Goinkyo as old teacher to question the new value that disregards such people by judging them by their productivity.

In Conclusion, this scene seems to be Itami’s verison of the old fable, ‘Ubasuteyama’. Itami uses the encounter with the homless scene to emphasize his idea of nostalgia towards the old Japanese local community that entreasured humanity, respected the old, and allowed the somewhat outsiders to be included in the society, and criticize the society of mass consumption that destroyed the bond between people.

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