Author Archives: fbundalian

The Quest for the Exotic

In Junichiro Tanizaki’s work, The Gourmet Club, he tackles the issue of exoticism and its value to food, especially to the members of this club. The Gourmet Club in reference to the text is a group of five men who has a strong passion for food. They have a passion so strong that it is better described as an obsession. This group of men can be considered next level foodies. They have tried literally every form of fine cuisine that Tokyo has to offer. Now their struggle is to find something that is different – a new flavor. To show the almost crazy obsession that the club members have for food and their quest to create, if not find, a flavor that is both new and appealing to their taste buds, Tanizaki employs a great deal of visual descriptions and metaphor.

Count G., despite being the youngest member of the club, is considered to be the unofficial president because they usually hold the meeting in the upper floor of his mansion. Out of anyone in the club, Count G., is the one who is most responsible in discovering novel flavors. Whether he is awake or asleep, food is everything that he thinks about; it is the only thing that matters to him. He dreams of food in the most vivid way possible. To describe one of his dreams, Junichiro Tanizaki, used a great deal of visual descriptions to give the audience an image of what was happening inside Count G.’s head as he sleeps. The author described in his dream food “turned into a fluid like piss from the abscess, a kind of sludge upon the tongue’s surface” (106). However, Tanizaki didn’t just describe the dream for the sole purpose of description. His word choice reflects the craziness that was going on inside of the Count’s head. He described the dream in great detail as if to gross out the audience.

What is ironic about having this unappealing description is that the club seemed to be sophisticated at first. Each member of the club seemed to be of high social class to afford eating all kinds of food without having to work. They also have eaten every fine cuisine that Tokyo has to offer. To them, food is equivalent to art if not of higher value. They crave for “a symphony of food! An orchestral cuisine!” (104). But in reality, they just want something that is both new and good because since all they do is eat to their heart’s content, they have tried literally everything and they are now tired of everything that is easily accessible to them.

Exoticism is basically being foreign and unusual. This idea plays a huge role in the text because it has become the club’s quest to find out something exotic to their taste buds, something as foreign as a “Deep-Fried Woman, Korean style” (138). Tanizaki was able to present the idea of exoticism to his audience by using food and taking people’s cravings to a whole new level.

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More Than “Just Ramen”

Tampopo is a Japanese comedy film directed by well renowned director, Juzo Itami. This movie is about a woman who is trying to make a living off of making ramen but is failing to succeed in her business endeavors. Although the plot surrounds the main character, Tampopo, and her quest to finally make a ramen that her customers will love and subsequently bring in more business, this film has a lot of subplots that gives it a deeper meaning and that presents its audience new ideas and perspectives. One of these is the idea of hierarchy and how it relates to the appreciation of food. 

One particular scene that stood out to me as I was watching Tampopo is what seemed to be a business lunch including high ranking executives and a young subordinate. The setting of this meeting is already setting up the mood as it is located at a high end Western styled restaurant as opposed to what most would consider as high end Japanese restaurants. Food has a lot to do with social class. More often than not, Western food, particularly French cuisine, is often associated to class and wealth. 

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In this particular scene, we see that the distance of shot is medium. By giving the camera this distance from the actors, the audience can see everything that is happening. In the screenshot we see the subordinate who is indulged in the menu and is going along just fine ordering what he wants. By watching the movie, we are aware that he is well knowledgeable of French cuisine, which seemed to shock the his two superiors who are sitting right next to him. Despite being in a higher ranked position, everyone in the table ordered the same food. They pretended to look through the menu but got the exact same thing that the person next to them got.

The only reason why people find it shocking that the subordinate is able to know so much about that kind of food is because of the fact that he is in a lower social class than them. That is why I feel that this scene is an important part of the whole movie. The story of this subordinate relates to how the movie is trying to make a statement about ramen. Ramen is not exactly a gourmet food. Ramen is a food for the common man in Japan but the movie, Tampopo, is aiming to show its audience that Ramen can be so much more. In a way, the ramen can be a representation of the subordinate. At first glance, you would never assume that he would know so much about food because after all, he is just an ordinary person but it turns out he has a special quality that people who are above him don’t even have. This is very much how the movie is trying to show that ramen has a lot of things to offer especially with the way that people prepare and appreciate it.