Author Archives: izzichu

Feasting Together

It is said that a family who feasts together, stays together. For most people, food is seen as a source of energy and nutrition for the body, a necessity of life, but it is also a way for people form bonds others. In most cultures, families and communities come together to eat which establishes a connection between each other because when people share food at the table, they also share stories and experiences which elicits responses of laughter or even sympathy. Being able to connect on a personal level creates unity and a sense of community with others as illustrated by the Momotaro stories of Japan. Momotaro, a Japanese folk legend, leads his trusty squad into quests and battles in order to destroy the enemies that threaten the safety of Japan. In both visual and literary texts, food ties Momotaro and his crew together while also giving them the strength they need to carry on and become victorious in their quests.

In Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition of Momotaro, food represents providence and good fortune for the old couple as well as used as a sign of respect and trust that creates a band of warriors who are loyal to Momotaro and his quest. When the old couple finds Momotaro, he is actually within a peach which happens to be a fruit that is highly valued and often associated with the gods in Japanese folklore. This implies that Momotaro is a blessing from the gods, meant to bring the couple together and to grant them happiness. Although Sazanami never mentions anything about the man and woman having any lack of nutrition, they work very hard so when the peach comes floating down the river, it is a significant event for the old couple becomes it is a reason for celebration and a reward for their work. It makes their life “healthier” in a sense with the appearance of Momotaro in their lives. He is a healthy addition to their lives and is very beneficial to their lonely life because his presence gives them joy and he helps out the old couple in their daily burdens. The old couple is so grateful for Momotaro and his influence on their lives that they willingly let him leave them for his quest to save Japan.

Momotaro begins his journey after the old couple makes him millet dumplings in order to ensure his well-being. Millet dumplings are a material objects that originally were only to serve the purpose of guarantee Momotaro’s well-being but instead they become a symbol of trust and acceptance into Momotaro’s followers. He offers half a millet dumpling to each of his new followers in order to feast with them and create a fellowship with the dog, the monkey, and the pheasant. Furthermore, by offering food to his followers, this situation begins to mimic the parent-child relationship where the parent provides for the child, which, in this situation, makes the three followers his dependents. Throughout the whole book, Momotaro is referred to as “Peach-boy” and even refers to himself as “Peach-boy” reinforcing the idea that he was a gift from the gods as sustenance to the old couple’s lives. After his quest, his role as sustenance is extended to Japan because he helps the country well-being in his victory over the Ogres.

Misuyo Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle reinforces the idea of food as a way to form bonds but chooses to focuses on food as a unifier of Momotaro’s forces rather than an initiation of his followers as his forces head to the Demon’s island to face the enemy. In the film, the troops consume millet dumplings just as Momotaro and his followers did in Sazanami’s story, however, it is a feast among his many troops. Food becomes something to rally behind because it not only creates unity among the troops, but also gives them the strength to conquer the enemy. This is illustrated when one of the monkeys quickly wolfs down a millet dumpling and he suddenly becomes muscular enough to overwhelm the enemy with whom they are in combat with. As a propaganda film that was premiered in the midst of World War II, it paralleled the events that were occurring in the war and influenced citizens to cheer for Momotaro and his troops. Though it was Momotaro’s great leadership that led to the victory over the demons, the millet dumplings were what gave them the ability to do so and thus they are a representation of the strength of the Japanese people in the war. Millet dumplings were something that could be shared by all and creates a sense of camaraderie among the Japanese people and its troops.

Although the Momotaro tales are often associated with a noble journey and a victorious quest or purpose, Tsuchimoto’s Minimata: The Victims and Their World, alludes to the stories as people victimized because of food. Sustenance united Momotaro’s troops yet was the source of problems in Osaka. When people of Osaka consumed the fish of the nearby polluted waters, they also consumed mercury which resulted in a mass of innocent civilians with severe cases of Mercury poisoning. They relate their suffering to the people of Japan by equating their pain with living in “the land where blue and red ogres dwell” in order to convey the devastating the effects of mercury poising that ravaged their city. In alluding to the Momotaro stories with the ogres, the victims illustrate their situation simply because of the familiarity of the Momotaro stories to the Japanese people. This epidemic caused people to unite against the company that had polluted the water, to fight for justice and reparations. Although food caused this plague, it also brought people together to combat injustice and to band together in order to make a difference in the victims’ lives.

Having a sense of community is hard to find in a world that has many enemies and suppressors, but in partaking with others, a bond is formed between people who defend each other. In the Momotaro tales and film, food is a unifier that brings a group of people together to find strength to defeat the enemy as well as a reminder of one’s roots. The millet dumplings become a tie between the troops as they follow Momotaro into war. As for Minimata, the food that the community often shared together was poisoned, and thus, because of food, the people come together to fight the injustice of the big businesses that have polluted their lives. In each context, it is food that influences their actions and their outcome because it is an act of fellowship. Although food gives them strength to overcome the enemy, their victories did not stem from the consumption of food. Rather, it came from their ability to unite because of the personal connection formed in the act of partaking the food together.

Care and Health

Throughout the film Spirited Away, the creator, Hayao Miyazaki, reinforces the idea that coming of age is not only the loss of idleness that so characterizes childhood, but also beginning to care for oneself and eventually caring for others as well. Miyazaki uses food to mark Chihiro’s growth throughout the movie as she struggles with adjusting to the working world in order to find an escape.

 the berry

Haku persuades Chihiro to eat a berry in order to stay present in the spirit world

            When children first go off into the real world and become to mature into adults, they have trouble remembering to take care of their own health. In Chihiro’s case, she was thrust into this situation so instead of even considering her health, she focuses on trying return to where she came from; a place where her parents were responsible and took care of her, away from this alien world and its foreign elements did not exist. However, Haku comes to the rescue and persuades Chihiro to eat a berry prompting her to take care of her well-being as well as getting her to focus on the predicament at hand. Food gives her strength to exist as well as realize that wishing will not transport her back to her previous world. Instead, she must find a logical solution to her predicament.

 Rice Cake

Haku again offers Chihiro food after her long and difficult day in the spirit world

            After a long day of close calls and tense moments, Chihiro is assigned to Lin as an assistant and she begins to understand the reality of her situation. When Haku calls her out and offers her rice cakes in the early morning, Chihiro begins to cry because she can do nothing but look forward even though she wants to go back. In offering Chihiro rice cakes, Haku mimics the way Chihiro’s parents cared for her because they provided her with food and shelter. Chihiro struggles internally because she is nostalgic about her past and wants nothing more than to go back, however, because of the responsibilities that have been placed on her shoulders due to her new job, she must live in the present focus on the task at hand. She sobs as she wolfs down the rice cakes because she realizes that she has to grow up and work hard in order to return to her world with her parents as humans.

 

 mantou on the porch

Chihiro grasps a dumpling and the magic cake with a new energy

            When she receives the magic cake from the River god, Chihiro realizes that she finally has a way to lift the curse on her parents and return to her world! Lin offers her a dumpling as a celebratory reward for Chihiro’s hard work; however, it is more than just a reward to Chihiro. It signifies her maturation because it is the product of her own hands. She realizes that because of her hard work, she can provide for herself and now has the ability to take care of her parents as well. As she holds the previous magic cake in one hand, she eats her dumpling happily and converses with Lin about leaving the Bath house one day, knowing that it is nearer than she had previously thought.

 Eating the magic

Chihiro forces some of the magic cake into Haku’s mouth to save her dying savior

            When Chihiro feeds Haku some of the magic cake that was meant for her parents, Miyazaki illustrates a changed Chihiro who is now caring for her friends the way he first cared for her when she was “dying.” As she matured through the movie, she realized that Haku had cared for her and that saving his life was merely returning the favor. However, it does not symbolize that she has chosen him over her parents. She was able to give the magic cake to Haku without so much a second thought because she now knows that she can work hard and will continue to work hard to find a different way to save her parents.

At first, when Chihiro is caught between her old world and the new spirit world, she is so blinded by her predicament that it is Haku’s generosity and acts of kindness that keep her alive. In the end, she realizes that she has the ability to be a hard worker and take care of herself. As a mature character her responsibilities are no longer merely the regulations of her job but also responsibilities to her loved ones. Chihiro, who began as an idle child who complained about everything, became hard worker who not only cared for herself but also saved Haku and her parents. Chihiro leaves the spirit world a changed character and though it is debatable whether or not she remembers her experience there, the experiences shaped her into a new person.

Tampopo and the Eye of the Tiger (Or Was That Rocky Balboa?)

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In Tampopo, the main protagonist struggles to find a way to survive in the competitive ramen market so she seeks the advice and help of a “Cowboy” named Goro. This scene accurately depicts how seriously both characters are about the process of creating the ultimate bowl of ramen. Goro is sitting to the side in cowboy attire asserting his mentor-mentee role as the knowledgable Cowboy who has a plethora of life experience. As he holds up the stopwatch to check Tampopo’s time, he scrutinizes it carefully so that if she did not make the time by even a mere millisecond, he would not accept her work. Tampopo, on the other hand, is dressed in sweats, as if training for a marathon and poses strongly to stop the clock as she sets her bowl of ramen before her “coach” for evaluation.

This medium shot establishes the relationship between Goro and Tampopo as well as the standards that they have set for themselves in searching for the perfect bowl of ramen. The kitchen is much tidier than before, the water is clear, the bowls in the cabinets are stacked neatly, the vegetables are washed, and bar is wiped down thus portraying their dedication to the art of perfecting Tampopo’s ramen. They create an atmosphere that not only sets them up to be successful but motivates Tampopo to try again until she manages to perfect her ramen in the allotted time.

Subconsciously, people may associate it with Rocky Balboa and his quest because it has a similar feel and the music that plays in the background during this scene helps to evoke that feeling of trying to conquer the impossible. This scene is important because though Tampopo has gone with Goro to many different shops to observe, to taste, and to learn, it isn’t until she begins to practice that the hard work really begins. In emulating the Rocky Balboa type theme, Itami Juzo communicates the intensity and enthusiasm with which Tampopo pursues her goal.

Had Itami Juzo not included this scene, Tampopo’s pursuit of better ramen would seem less dedicated and motivated than seen in this scene. We would see her learning process as merely observing and going back to the kitchen for hours on end trying to emulate the cooking styles by herself until she succeeded. Instead, Goro is a motivational character that encourages her while keeping Tampopo on task. The clean kitchen ensures that even if she does not manage to accomplish her task right away, she can start over and try again. As she practices, Goro times her with a stopwatch in order to track her time, however, it also becomes a motivational tool because Tampopo has a set time goal that she can work towards as she continues to perfect the recipe. Thus, Tampopo is not merely slaving away in her kitchen, she is improving each time and with practice and the help of “Cowboy” Goro, she becomes closer and closer to creating the ultimate bowl of Ramen.