Ramen-tic Artistry: Tradition and Artistry in Every Bite

The Japanese comedy, Tampopo, is a ramen western film with multiple intertwining plots occurring simultaneously. Although the most prominent of the plots focuses on the story of Tampopo, a cook and owner of a small ramen shop, who is determined to master the perfect Japanese noodle recipe, the director, Juzo Itami, strategically incorporates additional scenes to enhance the importance food plays in Japanese culture. One scene in particular that exemplified the tradition ramen played in Japanese culture is the scene of an elderly food guru who teaches a young gentleman a valuable lesson on how to appreciate the artistry in a simple bowl of ramen soup.

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A food guru teaches a young man the traditional way to eat ramen soup (two-shot camera method).

 In this particular scene, the elderly man satirically demonstrates to his apprentice the traditional step by step process of eating ramen noodles. The aesthetic of Japanese cuisine is a true form of art.  From the elegantly placed shinachiku roots and chopped spring onions to the delicately prepared shimmering broth, every minor detail is prepared to absolute perfection.

In the setting, the young man and food master causally sit on counter stools at a ramen shop with full bowls of steaming ramen in front of each individual. Itami utilized symmetry and a two-shot, eye-level, medium distance camera set up to display the equality between the ramen consumers. Despite the generation gap between the two men, as the elder is dressed in traditional wear and the young man is dressed in a westernized Hawaiian shirt, the contents of the ramen dish remain identical.  Thus, symbolizing that ramen is a Japanese national dish meant to be eaten by all members of the community, not determinant by age or class. When the young man dives in to his bowl to begin devouring his noodles, the teacher lingers a bit to carefully examine and appreciate the work that went into creating the ramen meal. This comedic point in the film humorously serves to juxtapose the traditional Japanese cuisine culture with more western views on cuisine culture. This provides a prominent example emphasizing how highly respected the Japanese culture has for their traditional cuisine.

As the ceremonial gestures begin to take play, the mise-en-scene shifts to individual close-up shots of the food master and the ingredients of the actual ramen bowl. The food master further tells the young man that he must apologize and caress the pieces of pork. These demands give meat human characteristics. Though these demands seem somewhat outrageous, since meat was considered a sacred delicacy the food master is implying that one must treat their food with the same affection that they would to a lover.  Rather than using food as simply a source of fuel, it is more important to appreciate the journey each ingredient took to get mixed into the ramen dish displayed on the table and enjoy the quality in every tasteful bite.

This scene essentially acts as a foundation foreshadowing Tampopo’s story to greatness in the ramen making industry. The success in her creation of the most delicious ramen stems from embodying tradition and appreciation for the tasteful artistry in Japanese cuisine.

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