“In this scene which takes place not long before the turnaround and renovation of Tampopo’s restaurant, Tampopo opens up to Goro, telling him why she tries so hard to live up to the highest standard as a Ramen Chief. Her words at this moment more or less encapsulate the entire theme of the movie.”
Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo” is a light-hearted film which belies the complexity of the societal satyr and themes throughout the entire story. As the lead actress and title of the movie, Tampopo is a movie about a woman (Tampopo) and her climb to the top of the Ramen world, wherein she finds herself and grows as a person along the way, thanks to the help of Goro, and his sidekick Gun (and many others). Although Tampopo is the lead character, the story is not limited to her perspective and struggle, as the focus seems to bounce between characters who are vaguely linked by some activity or setting at the time, if only to show how inexplicably linked we are by the unity of our struggles and conflict (we are all in the same boat, after all). In every scenario, food seems to hold some kind of symbolic significance to convey the message, wherein each person’s individual tale is a theme about the deconstruction of the social constraints placed on us through society, and the conflict between obtaining our own goals and preservation of the sense of self in light of the strains placed on us (and the characters) by the collective order/force.
In the screenshot that I chose felt best represents the aforementioned themes in the movie (above), we see Tampopo and Goro eating over a not-too-shabby restaurant that overlooks the city at night. Tampopo doesn’t look herself in this scene, as she is dressed up more than usual, showing her multi-dimensionality, simplicity (she has the potential to, but doesn’t ALWAYS get dressed up) and flexibility as a reflection to how much she’s grown. Finally, the conversation steers toward the big question of the movie, asked by Goro (as we know little about Tampopo’s past before the start of the movie): “Why do you try so hard?” Tampopo responds, saying “Well…It’s like…Everybody has their own ladder. Some climb the rungs to the top. But some don’t even know they have one (a ladder). You helped me find my ladder, Goro.” The “ladder” she refers to is what every character in the movie tried to climb, or find for themselves, in the face of the societal limitations and constraints placed on them. The business setting in the French restaurant showed an underdog rookie business man taking a step up when he showed his previous cultural excursions by knowledgeably ordering from the French menu, revered due to France’s rich culture and rituals attached to its food over hundreds of years. Soon after, a group of women learned to let loose of the rituals of femininity attached to eating and enjoy Ramen without worry of appearance and “not making a sound.” A couple is then shown in a hotel room, so lost in each other that the walls of privacy that are inherently placed between humans are completely dissolved by the power of love/lust, as they partake in sexual representations of sharing food. This further extends into other scenes, where an older man gives a young boy ice-cream, despite the fact that the boy was wearing a sign that specifically told others not to share processed foods with him. This scene, although simple as it was, was a microcosm of the entire theme of the film: about getting what you want in the sea of social responsibilities and ties. Food (and more specifically ramen) was like the envelope to this letter, as it is so embedded in the culture of humanity as something that we partake in to live, and something in which we let our guard down when partaking in it.
We eventually come to see a broken Tampopo rise to the top, with her movements becoming more controlled, precise, and focused as she makes ramen, climbing her own personal ladder with hard work, dedication, and some mentoring. Amidst all the chaos happening around her (and unbeknownst to her), everybody is looking to find their next step, or even their ladder altogether, as they are pulled every-which way by the culture of food and society that binds them.