Juzo Itami’s comedy film, Tampopo, portrays the story of a modest noodle cook who aspires to master the perfect recipe for making ramen noodles. After her husband’s death, the relentless widow, Tampopo (Itami’s funny sensibility at work), strives to support her son and herself by keeping her noodle house running. Tampopo soon discovers that this task is anything but simple when Goro and Gun, noodle connoisseurs and truck drivers, wander into her shop and sit down to try a bowl of ramen. Goro, who loves noodles so much that he can discern whether a bowl of ramen is good or not by just the sight of it, converses with another customer by swapping opinions about Tampopo’s noodles like chef judges would.
Tampopo is met with disdain when the two describe her ramen as “sincere”, insinuating that her noodles aren’t great. Goro and Gun agree to teach her how to stir up the perfect recipe for a bowl of noodles, and the widow’s wild ride to learning the art of cooking and serving the best ramen begins. Itami perfectly arranges the film with a collection of indelible moments that all come together as one.
Itami’s camera floats to a scene in which Goro and Gun are sitting before their breakfast meal: a bowl of ramen prepared by Tampopo. Instead of quietly enjoying their meals, the two suddenly become food critics. The truckers reluctantly, but in all honesty, say that the noodles “lack profundity”, that “they’ve got sincerity- but they lack guts”. These philosophical sentiments delivered by the connoisseurs demand a special respect for the art of ramen. By astounding the widow with their frankness and eccentric sense of humor, Goro and Gun most effectively break through the wall to Tampopo and her quest to find the perfect recipe for making noodles. In a later sequence when Tampopo is on the verge of a noodle breakthrough, Goro critiques Tampopo’s noodles again, stating that “they’re beginning to have substance, but they still lack depth.” It is through this education of ramen, an identifiably Japanese dish, that Tammpopo begins her skillful training and strength building. The scene reveals the most engaging thing about Tampopo: the film portrays a vision of Japanese culture where the social position of the individual is subordinate to the ethical unity of a stable society. Tampopo’s search to find the perfect recipe for ramen may represent an individual’s social role in a consumerist era.
The astonishing philosophical verdicts delivered as Tampopo’s noodles slowly improve continue to resonate with me. I love the cold yet candid immensity of the words, and how confounded Tampopo is when she hears those words come out of Goro’s mouth. It is a scene that repeats itself in my head whenever I pull up a stool at a ramen house, or even when I’m simply microwaving a Cup of Noodles or Top Ramen at home. Itami’s Japanese film comically tells the story of the Japanese culture’s tradition to contribute something that is valuable to the citizens of Japan as a whole.