A Field of Change

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At high noon they come. These two cowboys have come to fight. They fight for pride, they fight for the woman that they both love, they fight for the honor of the old West, and they fight for ramen. In this scene from Itami Juzo’s 1985 classic “Ramen Western” Tampopo, we see the pinnacle of the struggles of our protagonists as their final obstacle is conquered. The scene is established with a long shot showing the movie’s hero Goro in the midst of a fist fight with Pisken, a drunk who was pit against Goro in his efforts to help the title character Tampopo from the very beginning. As we watch these two warriors battle it out punch by punch, the camera slowly pans out into an extreme long shot portraying the two fighting beneath a major highway interchange with a train line running in the background. As the two continue their duel, cars pass overhead and we begin to wonder about the true scope of their fight.

            This shot is very perfectly planned out in true mise-en-sine style. At first, we see the two cowboys fighting in a grassy field with old dilapidated fencing surrounding them. This gives a strong sense of the rural setting of the old West. This is beautifully juxtaposed by Itami when he pulls back to open the view to the very centralized urban setting where the fight is actually taking place; he is able to achieve this instantaneous transition from rural to urban in one beautifully planned, positioned, and uncut take.

            The dialogue in this scene is minimal; Itami intended for the visuals, the sounds of the fight, and the sounds of the world around them to tell the story. Throughout the scene we hear only the grunts and intermittent smacks as Goro and Pisken exchange blows, and above them we hear the traffic as life in the rest of the city continues unaware of the struggle of the two men below.

            In Tampopo, Itami has used the idea of coming and going throughout. As with the different side vignettes fading n and out through the movement of the film, the general plot itself centers on this concept. Tampopo needs to let go of her old ideas, her old style, her old restaurant, and her old life. Pisken, who we find out has grown up with Tampopo, is the ultimate obstacle of Tampopo’s evolution. We first meet him when we meet Tampopo for the first time, and we learn that he has his own plans for the future of the troubled Tampopo and her restaurant. The first battle between Pisken and Goro sets up this struggle for change; the second time that the two meet on the battlefield ends that struggle. Due to their final fight, the two cowboys develop a respect for one another. In this one-on-one dance, they are able to understand that they both have the same goal. While they were going about it in completely different ways, they each truly want to help Tampopo improve. When the two men catch their breath, Pisken makes peace with Goro and becomes the final piece in the transformation of the restaurant; he agrees to remodel the interior.

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