Tampopo Ramen: Japan’s Heritage in a Bowl

J70: 500w Screen Shot Paper
James Laflin


<Gun and the old man reverently survey their bowls of ramen>

In Tampopo, we meet two truck drivers, a women who owns a ramen restaurant, and a diverse variety of other characters, all of whom view food in a very different way, yet share the same love and reverence for it. Following in the vein of a Western, a “ramen western” if you will, the story follows Tampopo, Goro, and Gun who try and create the best ramen, and as well, build up their reputation and the restaurant.

In the scene from the screen shot above, Gun is being taught by an old man (a ramen master) how to eat ramen properly. The old man explains to Gun that to eat a bowl of ramen, one must observe the bowl in all of its parts, not just as one entity. Gun is urged to see the fat glistening on top, the way the seaweed slowly sinks from the intake of the broth, and how the pork slices sit in the soup, hidden, yet present. Then, one must show the bowl affection, especially in regards to the pork, showing complete reverence for the life it once was. A slurp of noodles next, followed by a piece of shinachiku root, repeat, followed by three sips of broth, then a piece of pork is eaten, whereupon a sigh and a moment of rest follows.

This scene reflects the way Japanese view food, particularly ramen as a cultural iconic staple. However, looking deeper, this scene and its philosophies behind it reflects Japan and its way of life. We view life and its aspects with a reverence, creating a sense of being, and seeing a whole country as communal, many pieces that make up a whole. On another level, Japan believes whole heartedly in putting genuine effort into perfecting and completing a task, even though perfection is a completely formalistic creation. Our focus and attention is put into these tasks, and each movement is made on an only necessary basis, whereby no action is wasted. To put such attention to every minute gesture, and to do so with respect, defines this holistic point of view, and is applied to everything we do, whether it’s working out in a rice field, making sushi, or even eating a bowl of ramen.

This scene is made up of a variety of close ups, medium shots, and contains a very personal connection to not only the characters, but with the food as well. This in itself is one of the sub-themes in the movie. The underlying theme of the movie is the connection one has with food, and how it defines oneself. It begs the question of how we are within a society, whether you are a humble noodle maker, a gangster, a group of vagabonds, a high-brow lady learning European ways, or two rough yet sensitive cowboys traveling the road making their own destiny and changing those they meet along the road.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s