Author Archives: janetye

Dehumanization By Food


Kobayashi Takiji’s proletarian literature piece, The Factory Ship, tells the narrative of a crew of workers on a factory ship. The exploited workers organize a mutiny against the superintendent, Asakawa, who treats them as mere tools to expand his capitalistic desires. The dehumanization or “thingification” of the workers on the factory ship is most obviously shown through Kobayashi’s descriptive use of figurative language when he compares the workers to food. There is a power struggle evident in this story as well, with capitalism being its driving force. Food acts as a salvation to the workers not only as sustenance but also as “motivation”. By reversing the dehumanization process and providing a sense of unity and community among the workers, food is used to give them an opportunity to overthrow the power struggle and to better their lives.

            From the beginning of this piece, Kobayashi compares the workers with the rotting food on the ship. Even their quarters are in close proximity to the storeroom, as if the author wanted to say that the workers themselves were being stored like pickles, their stenches being mingled. “The men, who lived in this cooler like so many salmon, shook with the cold. (14)” The steel of the ship was like a refrigerator storing the workers as if they were prisoners with no free will. “Like animals being led to the slaughter (57).” The workers suffer on the factory ship in desolate conditions, stored until their purpose is expired like the food on the ship.

            Asakawa, the main protagonist of the piece, enforces his dominance on the ship by dehumanizing the workers. “What makes you think you deserve a full stomach on days you don’t work? (14)” He treats the workers as objects that are only good for fueling his appetite for maximum profit. His capitalistic mindset forces the workers in rivalries and participation in reward systems, in order to prevent them from uniting. Asakawa’s intentions failed to stop the workers from uniting, though. “Dinner over, the men congregated around the stove before going to bed. (56)” The workers utilize their meal times to congregate and plan out their revolt. With the interaction with other workers, they begin to feel more human and less like objects.  

A false pretense is set up that the workers are “national resources (51)” for the good of Japan, a significant contrast from the treatment the workers receive. On that night, a celebration occurred featuring various foods including rice wine, cuttlefish, and more as well as films depicting propaganda. The workers were led to be believe that their work was saving the nation and the tasty food was a reminder of the rewards they would reap if they did their job properly. However, this was not enough to sway the workers from their plans of mutiny.

“It was as if a flashlight had suddenly been turned on a swarming mass of maggots, (65)” when a fisherman had spoken up against Asakawa and sparked the last step of the revolt. The swarming mass of maggots that represented the workers had finally acted instead of staying immobile, rotting on the ship. Ultimately, Kobayashi uses food in The Factory Ship in a number of ways: as a comparison to the workers, as sustainability and drive, and lastly as a unifier.


Tampopo: A Ramen Western

Tampopo, a Japanese food comedy with a twist on the classic, Spaghetti Western, is a light-hearted story about a single working-class mother striving to perfect her ramen recipe and revive her ramen shop. The director, Juzo Itami, utilizes food as a way of connecting issues occurring in late 1980s Japan. In particular, he focuses on ramen and overturning conventions. Ramen normally is seen as a comfort food, mostly eaten on cold, winter nights alone. However, Itami shows that ramen can also promote a sense of community and home. With ramen, he brings together the protagonist, Tampopo and Goro, along with his friend, Gun. Although, Gun and Goro are constantly traveling in their truck, they stop to teach Tampopo the art of making the perfect ramen.

This scene, in which Goro and Gun encounter Tampopo and her son for the first time and start a fight with a group of men, is the scene that I think is the most important. Not only because it starts the relationship between the protagonists, but also because of the fight scene that exemplifies Tampopo to be a self-proclaimed, ramen western.


Goro and Gun on their long journey.

In the scene, Goro and Gun stop by Tampopo’s ramen shop after their long journey on the road for a bite to eat. Elements of old Western films are seen as Gun seems to act as Goro’s sidekick and the fact that they are on the road, however not on horses like in traditional western films, but in a truck. The medium shot that is shown in the screen shot above depicts Goro and Gun through their heavily rained- on truck window. The book that Gun holds could mean that they have been traveling for quite a long time. From their attire, they appear to be of lower class and the hat that Goro wears is also symbolic of the West.


screenshot 2

The gang leader is hit in the face by a naruto.

The scene continues as the duo enters Tampopo’s ramen shop and encounters a group of men who harass Tampopo. The leader of the group, as shown above, irritates Goro to the point where Goro flicks a piece of naruto (cured fish often served in ramen) at his face. The close-up shot of this at a somewhat low angle shows the emotional approach of the action. It makes the scene a lot more emphasized as well as comedic and dramatic, especially when the piece of naruto is stuck on his face. Goro demonstrates heroism in this scene, another element in Western movies, when they choose to start a fight with the harassers soon after.


Tampopo and her son watch the fight from their ramen shop.

The fight is taken outside the ramen shop where in this shot, Tampopo and her son are huddled together watching the fight from their shop. It is interesting how the main action was not shown and the director wanted to focus on the emotions of Tampopo and her son instead. Itami probably wanted to illustrate the importance of family and community as a sort of precursor to the audience in the beginning of the movie.