I believe that the scene featuring Japanese businessmen in a fancy French restaurant is the most important scene of the movie. This scene captures not only the art behind the enjoyment of food, but also food as a form of cultural capital. The combination of Japanese culture with a French environment produces a comedic yet profound implication of the superiority of Western culture in Japan at that time.
The scene starts out with a group of six well-dressed Japanese men where five of them assume the superior positions and social status to the junior one who appears to be their secretary carrying business material around. These men go to a famous French seafood restaurant. Japan is well-known for seafood culture as its geographical properties give access to great source of seafood. However, French seafood restaurant assumes a higher stance in seafood culture as it is chosen to be the dining place for people of high social status.
The junior ‘secretary’ is constantly punished when he performs actions that other businessmen deem disrespectful. It is also social etiquette in the business world of Japan that people of lower status should always abide to the decisions of the higher ones, who tend to be the bosses, unquestionably. Even when the lower people are to voice their opinions, they are to do so in a humble manner to show respect to their superiors.
The most important part (also most hilarious) of this scene is when the businessmen pick their orders. Since most of them show the lack of knowledge on French cuisine, after only one of them picks the order, the other four follow and order the same thing. Their orders contain a French dish and Heineken beer. The choice of beer also proves their lack of knowledge on white wine, which is a more suitable choice for seafood in French cuisine. The junior, however, shows very good knowledge on French cuisine. He subconsciously assumes the superior status by ordering fancy dishes and beverage, a process that takes sometime. The waiter becomes the judge for the junior’s knowledge, the catalyst for the superior status of the junior. It is not surprising that the businessman sitting next to the junior reacts greatly to the junior’s behavior by kicking the junior’s foot; however, unlike the previous situations, the junior ignores the hint, and ignores his Japanese business etiquette I discussed above. This further proves the superiority of the Western culture to Japanese culture, and that people of young generation of Japan chooses Western culture over Japanese culture in hope of ‘modernizing’ themselves.
Though focusing mostly on glorifying ramen noodles, the movie also takes into account the impact of Western culture to Japan through food in the 90s. It also shows how food relates to many other social theme like sex, crime, poverty, killing, comedy and many other matters of everyday life. Through ‘Tampopo’, we are presented to the beauty, the power and the rich culture embedded in food.