Tampopo: Formation of Community

Throughout Tampopo, Itami Juzo illustrates the formation of community through food – specifically ramen. Ramen can be seen as a comfort food; affordable and easily accessible. It is the type of food that can be enjoyed by anyone from different social and economic standings.  In the film, ramen is the food that unites all the different characters into one community and despite their differences, they work together to reach a common goal.

In the beginning Tampopo begs Goro and Gun to help her with her failing ramen shop in order to become a better cook. It is through this simple dish that brings the protagonists together. The formation of different relationships through the film is all tied together with one goal – they all want to help Tampopo’s ramen shop. For example the old homeless ramen master forms a bond with Tampopo and is in charge of making her ramen soup better. Later on they meet Shohei, the old rich man’s (who almost had a heart attack) driver who is surprisingly knowledgeable about ramen noodles. Lastly, probably the most surprising, is the bond formed between the protagonists and Pisken, the gangster Goro meets when he first entered Tampopo’s ramen shop.

When Goro and Pisken cross paths again, the scene starts with them in a typical western one on one duel to prove which of them is the better man. This type of scene is very typical of a western film where power and masculinity are proven through a one on one battle, where the last man standing wins. However, to our surprise none of them wins.

Pisken and Goro after their duel. And suddenly Pisken offers to help to reconstruct the interior of Tampopo's ramen shop

Pisken and Goro after their duel. And suddenly Pisken offers to help to reconstruct the interior of Tampopo’s ramen shop

This medium shot of Pisken and Goro lying down on the ground exhausted gives a sense of equality between the two because they are on the same level platform. It suggests these two characters are not that different from each other after all. Furthermore the fact that it is a shot of them on the ground rather than a shot of them both still standing up implies that this “common” thing that they share is one of the basic needs all humans have, therefore making no one better than the other.  Itami reveals that social statuses are all socially constructed and is constantly being reinforced through how we treat people, and what we consider “high-class” food and a cheap food and who we associate these foods with. Itami choosing ramen as the main food for the film suggests that it is a dish many Japanese people are familiar with especially during the time where Japan is adopting many unfamiliar western foods.  Itami focuses on the work that goes into the ramen which suggests that a simple dish can require a lot of work to reach perfection just like any other high-class western cuisine. Moreover, it can be enjoyed by everyone just like the characters that were brought together because of ramen.

Despite the changes that take place constantly in society, the value of food will never go away. It is true that what is considered an elite cuisine can change overtime, however, the purpose of eating food will stay the same. Whether you are someone enjoying a meal in a five star restaurant or someone in a fast food chain, our purpose is to nourish and to indulge ourselves in food. Therefore we are all tied together by food.

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