Tampopo: Ramen and the Lessons it Teaches through Community

 

Tampopo and her friends/teachers gazing at the restaurant.

Tampopo, the ever famous ramen western directed by Itami Juzo, incorporates many themes and genres as it satirizes the common tropes and images associated with western films that were popular in America. Alongside the comedy, one of the most prominent themes in Tampopo deals with the daily lives and issues of people from every social class in relation to food and its enjoyment.

In the mise-n-scene shown above Tampopo and her teachers proudly gaze upon their renovated restaurant with pride. This is a medium shot which gives us a nice sense of who these characters are with their differences in attire. Notice the main heroine of the story, Tampopo, stands in the middle of the shot arguably making her the focus of the shot even though she is relatively shorter than the other figures on-screen. The old master, considered to have the most knowledge in regards to noodles out of the entire crew shown in this picture, is the tallest figure standing to the far left. Despite his presence in size, he doesn’t take away from Tampopo’s prominence in the shot. Gun, the only representation for the cowboy here, is nearly hidden being that he is standing behind both Tampopo and the older master. Gun keeps his prominence because of the exaggeration in his facial expression. The person with the highest social status, a legitimately trained noodle chef, who aids in the groups efforts later on in the movie, is to the far right and appears to be the least prominent figure in the group because of his size in the shot in comparison to the trio huddled in the right (which establishes his relatively new position as a friend in this group).

This shot reveals many things about the film. Most notably being the sense of companionship and outright joy at reaching a goal together when viewing the characters smiles alone. With only the blue sky for background, this represents a series of new beginnings for the characters and emphasizes their differences with their attire, which formulates how they would fit into different assumptions, perceptions, and functions in society. This scene is an attempt at unification and strengthens the idea that food, in particular, can be appreciated and valued in all aspects of life while forging a bridge between people of different lifestyles just by these characters standing together in this shot. By utilizing ramen as a base (a relatively unimportant dish in Japanese rituals), the movie creates a caring and humble take on the act of eating and, in essence, sharing its appreciation. Tampopo gathers knowledge from a wide variety of people, which builds up into a sense of community and belonging for her as she later reaches success thanks to the teachings she has accepted. Through ramen, the film is reversing the commonly held stereotypes within this spectrum of Japanese mannerisms and dining to make a relatable story that includes everyone and praises the many ways in which one can show gratitude towards such a fundamental human act. Eating is no longer overlooked or practiced specifically to convey status. In Tampopo eating helps us understand each other.

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