Social Stratification and the Future of Traditional Japanese Cuisine

In this scene, goro leads Tampopo and her son to a group of friendly tramps who are somehow knowledgeable in both Japanese and western cuisine. The scene itself is informative. First, the whole scene creates a mood of eeriness—thick wood that is partly visible, gloomy light, a bunch of slovenly vagrants, all of these remind me of zombie movies. However, in contrast, Juzo Itami characterizes the vagrants as “good people” and makes a close-up for two speakers (on picture 1). He also applies slightly low-angle shot in this scene to aggrandize the image of speakers and give audience a positive impression of them.

What’s more important, the scene reflects an important role of food: promoter of unity in community of the same social class. It is the love for ramen that made tampopo and goro use all the possible methods to learn unique recipes for ramen soup and secret skills to handle dough. Because of their common obsession with food, those vagrants become united, cohesive and friendly to those who enjoy the same topic. For example, despite the minimal amount of food they have, the vagrants are still willing to share it with tampopo and make further discussions on the topic of food (as in picture 1). Furthermore, tampopo and the vagrants get along with each other very well and they soon become intimate friends. The director is probably trying to depict a tendency that the common obsession develops into a type of culture, which varies with different social classes. This point can also be supported from the deportment lesson for a group of young ladies who come from relatively higher social class. For them, the culture of food primarily concerns with the manner of eating and high standard western cuisine, which is not part of food culture in lower social classes.

More profoundly, the director intends to convey his own thoughts about the Occidentalism in traditional Japanese cuisine through the lines of the vagrants because compared to higher social classes that regard western cuisine as a sign of symbol and modernization, they are better representative to conventional Japanese food. The speaker seems to be extremely familiar with different Japanese cuisines. “They used to use good pork from Kagoshima, but now, they even use machine to shred cabbage. No more soul in their food.” Clearly, the speaker believes that best cuisine is a craft rather than a product. True cuisine with soul has to be done by hands but not machine. The director worries not only that traditional Japanese cuisines will start to wane because of the popularity of western food, but also Japanese cuisine will lose its authenticity.

In conclusion, this scene is important because the director is trying to connect food, which is the theme of Tampopo, to realistic social and cultural issues—the formation of Japanese-Western cuisine culture and the revolution in traditional Japanese cuisines culture during Occidentalism.

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