In this movie Tampopo(1985), Itami Juzo tells an encouraging “ramen western” story about how a motivated widow called Tampopo realizes her dream of owning a desirable ramen restaurant with the support of a truck driver Goro and his friends. He also uses many comedic vignettes to show the incongruities of contemporary Japanese society and food rituals. The success of Tampopo represents the optimism about conserving the traditional handmade delicate Japanese food, like ramen, through the overwhelming flow of western or global food.
For me, the most important scene in this movie is when Goro takes Tampopo to see some of his senior sensei, who surprisingly turn out to be a group of hobos. Although humble and impecunious, they are very hospitable and honest, eagerly sharing all their insightful appreciation of food with Tampopo.
In the picture above, the hobos are talking and laughing ardently. Sitting in the darkness with shabby clothes, they are homeless and living a poor material life, but the bright and carefree smiles on their faces show their great enthusiasm for life; they are gathered together, just like a warm family, because they all have strong passion for food. Goro tells Tampopo the sensei with white hood used to be doctor but was betrayed by his cooperator and lost his career. That must be a very miserable and tough time for him but he got through all these difficulties thanks for his consistent love for food. It is food that brings them pleasure and confidence, encouraging them to strive and survive in this mercenary society.
I was impressed by these close-ups of the pop-eyed, open-mouthed, fully excited faces of the hobos when they are giving comments about food, like they are talking about the most delectable thing in the world. These eye-level shots make viewers feel like they are like Tampopo, standing in front of the hobo and attentively listening to his words. The knowledge about food are directly passed down to viewers. Also, ironically and most amazingly, the hobo is talking about high class western food such as French food, pork and wine just like a proficient. They are not educated but they consistently do research and study in food; the fancy wine thrown away by others is their textbooks and now they are imparting knowledge to Tampopo, a humble but modest woman. This scene shows a great power of these inferior people. They not only accept and enjoy the global and highly competitive world but also know how to appreciate the traditional food which faces the danger of being obsoleted. The most impressive words they say in this scene is that the modern mechanical food “have lost their souls” and the traditional elaborate food should be conserved. Those hobos, they insightfully perceive this rapidly changing world and greatly encourage the frustrated Tampopo.
The close-ups of Tampopo show that as she listens to sensei, her attitude change from suspicious to grateful. Thus she finally has the confidence and the determination of conserving the “ramen art” and starts to believe that humble people can also have glorious moments and great joy with food.