Risking Life for Food: The Importance of Food as a Source of Happiness and Fulfillment in Tampopo






Food is a necessary part of everyday life. It shapes how societies function and serves as a major tool in globalization and the spread of culture within a country itself. In Tampopo directed by Juzo Itami, the major plot revolves around a woman, Tampopo, and her desire to be a successful ramen chef. Through persistent research and development, she eventually becomes successful. She takes a risk by opening a ramen-ya in the first place. She is not well trained and thus runs this mediocre restaurant until Goro, the trucker, helps train her to become better. He takes a huge risk on her; he goes in blind only hoping that his knowledge and dedication to ramen will transfer over to Tampopo. Thankfully, Tampopo is the ideal student; she does whatever it takes to try and become successful. She risks life and limb to make sure that she produces the best ramen. She puts everything on the line to pursue her life dream and doesn’t let anything stand in her way. This major theme that resonates throughout the story of taking risks and challenging the social norm, is not only shown in Tampopo’s story, but in that of that various side-plots throughout the film.

The old man in the scene below perfectly exemplifies the necessity of taking risks in life. He is told specifically to not eat the shiroko, the kamonamban or the tempura soba because “they almost got you last time” (as stated by his wife). However, the moment that she leaves, he immediately begins to gorge himself; so much so that he gets food stuck in his throat and begins to choke. He so thoroughly enjoys this food he eats with a blatant disregard for the warning he receives. He loves the food so much that he doesn’t really care what it will do to him; he only knows that he must risk eating it in order to be happy.


The old man is warned that if he eats what he likes, he is risking his life.

In general, however, living involves many risks. The old man is told that he can’t eat this, that, and all sorts of other things. But he still orders all the things he’s not supposed to. Why? Risk makes us feel alive. Life without risk is life stuck in a rut. Like Tampopo, the old man is not content with barely living, he wants to do what he wants, and not let anyone dictate what he can or cannot do. The predominant characteristic of humans is our ability to take risk. We need change and growth in our lives. If you’re not growing, then you’re dying. The old man literally takes this to heart, disregarding his previous negative experience.



The old man gets the food vacuumed out of his throat, saving his life. 

Itami shows the true importance of food and its correlation with happiness. Though this scene can be taken as a simple comedic interlude, I feel as if it is one of the most important moments in the film. It shows not only that food is something that people really enjoy, but it also shows the risks people will take to pursue something that they love. Food is an important status in Japanese everyday life. They unite family, community, society, and culture; things definitely worth taking risks to attain.


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