Tampopo: the Essence of Food

When you think of food, what would you imagine? Your favorite food, restaurant, when to eat, or whatever; food is literally a means to receive nutrition to live on a life. Especially in Japan, food has been one of the three important elements of living on which are food “shoku”, clothing “i”, shelter “jyu”. In Tampopo, we can observe various aspects when we think of what food is and the essence of it through not only the main plot of Tampopo’s growth but in many scenes including the comical episodes of how you eat a bowl of ramen or the white suited yakuza guy with his mistress in his own movie and so on.

The yakuza having his last words...

The yakuza having his last words…

This shot, after having the yakuza shot several times by someone and close to death, is interesting because it represents the most contradictory idea of food. The mise-en-scene is having the yakuza in a white suit shot from a close-up angle with almost all his face in it and little space for his mistress’s back of her hair, and is a Dutch tilt shot having his body lying on the ground. Having all the rain, the dismal but somewhat tranquil music, it is obvious that this is a shot of death, but the yakuza’s last words seem very far from death: he talks about the story of hunting wild boars in winter and eating their guts full of yam grilled. It is quite interesting since the last thing of what the yakuza wanted to eat was not the gorgeous foods he has been eating but “yam sausage” which is not the so called fancy, up-scaled food.

From this shot, two important aspects of food can be observed. One is that even though eating food is a means to live on, it also is leading you to death. Second is that the ultimate pursuit of food cannot always be acquired through accumulating a bunch of money. The former lets the audience realize again that human needs to eat food to live on, but of course someday it will come to an end. In other worlds, you eat in order to die, which is, yet still a contradictory phrase, the nature of one’s life.  The latter can be seen through the contrast of Tampopo and the yakuza, as well as the homeless people knowing the best food around the place they live even though they are not that rich. The story of Tampopo is about a simple bowl of ramen which is a reasonable price, and accessible to mostly many people, but with Goro, Gun, Sensei and everyone’s enthusiasm to achieve the goal to make the ultimate ramen makes it not just a bowl of ramen but an excellent meal being accepted by a lot of people in a low price. On the other hand, the yakuza first had fancy food and some waiters serving him but with the film going on he realized not expensive dishes made by top chiefs but the oyster and the yam sausage turned out to be the food he has been pursuing. These three elements, including the episode of the homeless people, illustrates that dwelling on the opulence of food will make you blind of the nature of food.

Even though this scene or the yakuza scene throughout the whole movie has nothing to do with Tampopo herself, it is an important contrastive element to bring us some clues to think of food itself and its role in terms of the essence of food.


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