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Cultural capital: Food

I believe that the scene featuring Japanese businessmen in a fancy French restaurant is the most important scene of the movie. This scene captures not only the art behind the enjoyment of food, but also food as a form of cultural capital. The combination of Japanese culture with a French environment produces a comedic yet profound implication of the superiority of Western culture in Japan at that time.

The scene starts out with a group of six well-dressed Japanese men where five of them assume the superior positions and social status to the junior one who appears to be their secretary carrying business material around. These men go to a famous French seafood restaurant. Japan is well-known for seafood culture as its geographical properties give access to great source of seafood. However, French seafood restaurant assumes a higher stance in seafood culture as it is chosen to be the dining place for people of high social status.

The junior ‘secretary’ is constantly punished when he performs actions that other businessmen deem disrespectful. It is also social etiquette in the business world of Japan that people of lower status should always abide to the decisions of the higher ones, who tend to be the bosses, unquestionably. Even when the lower people are to voice their opinions, they are to do so in a humble manner to show respect to their superiors.

The most important part (also most hilarious) of this scene is when the businessmen pick their orders. Since most of them show the lack of knowledge on French cuisine, after only one of them picks the order, the other four follow and order the same thing. Their orders contain a French dish and Heineken beer. The choice of beer also proves their lack of knowledge on white wine, which is a more suitable choice for seafood in French cuisine. The junior, however, shows very good knowledge on French cuisine. He subconsciously assumes the superior status by ordering fancy dishes and beverage, a process that takes sometime. The waiter becomes the judge for the junior’s knowledge, the catalyst for the superior status of the junior. It is not surprising that the businessman sitting next to the junior reacts greatly to the junior’s behavior by kicking the junior’s foot; however, unlike the previous situations, the junior ignores the hint, and ignores his Japanese business etiquette I discussed above. This further proves the superiority of the Western culture to Japanese culture, and that people of young generation of Japan chooses Western culture over Japanese culture in hope of ‘modernizing’ themselves.

Though focusing mostly on glorifying ramen noodles, the movie also takes into account the impact of Western culture to Japan through food in the 90s. It also shows how food relates to many other social theme like sex, crime, poverty, killing, comedy and many other matters of everyday life. Through ‘Tampopo’, we are presented to the beauty, the power and the rich culture embedded in food.

The junior secretary shows his profound knowledge about French cuisine at the great displeasure of his superiors

The junior secretary shows his profound knowledge about French cuisine at the great displeasure of his superiors

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Tampopo’s Ramen: Female’s determination and Group’s communication

“Today, if they drink all the ramen soup in the bowl, I am succeeded.” Tampopo tells her son like this. After putting so much effort on improving the taste of ramen, Tampopo finally faced the challenge and test of her five “working partners”. And this is when the most important and intense scene of the movie occurs.

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This scene is a medium shot, so it focuses most importantly on the content. In the shot, five men are sitting next to the table, holding the bowl, and drinking the ramen soup together. Ramen soup, the spirit of the ramen, serves as a really significant meaning to the cook. The finish of ramen soup is an implication that the ramen is delicious. At the same moment in this scene, the lights switch from dark to bright. The rhythm of the music becomes faster and louder. All of these evidences show that the ramen which Tampopo made was delicious. The five people’s faces are hidden behind the bowl, but the audience can imagine that their faces must be full of satisfaction. Finishing the soup means that these five people’s approval of the Ramen and Tampopo. This scene is extremely influential because Tampopo finally succeeded after long time efforts. Tampopo’s success indicates that females also have the ability and ambition to achieve their goals. Ramen is easy and simple, but a good ramen is chewy. This is as same as women’s spirits, which seem weak but in fact powerful and tenacious. In Japanese society, males always go out to work and earn money, but women usually stays at home and take care of the family. Nevertheless, the success of Tampopo shakes this traditional opinion, which suggests that women also have the rights to follow their own determinations. This motivates the women to struggle for their own independence and respect.

Another interesting thing to mention in this scene is that there is no dialogue between these five people. Also, they dressed in totally different ways. However, they have exactly similar actions. They use both hands to hold the ramen bowl on the same level with the right hand holds the chopsticks. This scene suggests that even these people came from diverse background with different social positions. They can still gather together to eat ramen. So, another essential part of this scene is to show that ramen is actually a way of communication. For example, in the beginning of the movie, the truck driver Goro get in fights with Pisken. Nonetheless, at the end of film, they aligned to each other because they both want to help Tampopo with her ramen. In another word, ramen performs like an “invisible language” which helps these two men to understand each other and work together. Deeper saying, food, such as Ramen, was a basic requirement for all people. People could live without money, but could not live without food. So, people are totally equal in front of the food. Food could gather people from different status into the same table, and talk without unpleasing and inequity. Moreover, when people are having food, they don’t have to worry about anything. All focus was on food itself, so people could express their feelings, wants, needs and expectation freely without concern. This provides a great communication environment.

As all has been said, this screen shot is especially notable because not only it shows the success and determination of female, but also it reflects the essential place of food in people’s communication.

Food, People and Society

The movie Tampopo is directed by Juzo Itami in 1985, and the episodes of the movie are about food. In the movie, food means not only the substance that humans eat in order to support life, but also something that connects people with people, and people with societies. Especially, ramen, which is one of the most famous food of Japan, is the main food of the movie Tampopo. At the beginning of the episode, a young man learns how to eat ramen properly from his ramen teacher. They consider every detailed movement as important tips of manners to eat ramen, and that is not to show off that they have such a great table manner to other people; it is for having ramen with full respect and for enjoying it sincerely. By his teacher, the young man is instructed not only the table manner, but also the pleasure of enjoying ramen. I think the reason why ramen is set as a main food of the movie is because it represents Japan, and the characters of the movie are all involved in ramen, which also means people’s efforts to preserve Japanese food culture in the era of westernization in 1980‘s.

Food also plays an important role in the episode of a woman named Tampopo. She is a widow who runs a ramen restaurant. One day, she meets a man named Goro and asks him to make her as his apprentice. They put efforts to improve Tampopo’s skill to make perfect ramen and make her restaurant a better place, and I also interpret it as an effort of Japanese people in order to keep Japanese traditional culture. Also, Tampopo,Goro and people around them are connected together with ramen, and I think it shows that how people can fall in love with food that please their appetite and make them involved in human relationship with the fact that they are having same food together.

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Among all the great scenes, I chose the scene (30:15) from the episode about spaghetti because I think this scene shows the attitudes of Japanese people towards western culture. In that period, Japan was experiencing westernization and modernization. Western influence was spread to all Japanese society and also the food culture of western countries affected Japanese food industry. In the episode of spaghetti, there is a club that teaches how to eat spaghetti with western table manner with forks and knives. The members of the club are mostly young women, who want to encourage themselves to be westernized. However, after they see the white man makes noise and slurps his spaghetti, they start to eat as they want and forget about the table manner that they have learned so far. In this scene, I realize that the most important attitude towards food is about how to enjoy it. Also, people in the room become all together with the food, and I think that might be the lesson of the movie; food is a part of culture, and when people truly love it and enjoy it, it can be a means of communication, and plays an important role in human relationship and society.

Tampopo: The Individual’s Search for Self-Identification

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.

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Philosophical sentiments delivered by the connoisseurs

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.

Food, Sex, and the West in Tampopo

A man and woman share an egg in an intimate embrace

A man and woman share an egg in an intimate embrace

In the Japanese film Tampopo, director Juzo Itami uses food, ramen noodles in particular, to highlight the explosion of new goods and the emergence of a consumer culture during the Bubble Era in Tokyo and the consequential drowning out of long-standing Japanese traditions. The film follows a young Japanese woman, Tampopo, on her quest to turn her small restaurant into the best ramen noodle joint in all Japan. Itami plays on the western genre in conjunction with a salute to ramen noodles and Japanese food in general to emphasis the collision of two opposing cultures. A reoccurring theme that best demonstrates this cultural mingling is food as a driving force in sex.

The above clip is taken from one of the film’s odd sex scenes. In this particular case, a man and a woman are standing in an uncomfortable yet intimate embrace passing an egg between each other’s mouths. With each exchange they grow more and more excited until finally the women breaks the egg between her teeth and lets the yoke run down her chin in a fashion that mocks the overcoming feelings of ecstasy and sexual release experienced after an orgasm. This, without question, was one of the stranger scenes in the film and elicited nervous laughs throughout the class. However, this scene is extremely important in combining the undeniable human need for food for survival with raw sexual desire. Through the use of food as a stimulant, Itami demonstrates that these desires are closely linked and that eating food can bring a person the same deal of pleasure as can a sexual act. Itami also demonstrates that eating should be a celebrated experience that is intended to bring the consumer great satisfaction and happiness.

This scene is also significant in that it represents the complicated relationship between the Western world and Japan during the Showa Era. During this postmodern time, Japan was the world’s second largest economy. This resulted in an overflow of money, people, and goods from overseas into Japan. Because of this explosion of new cultures and ideas, Japan quickly adopted the mentality of “out with the old” in order to remain relevant. The man and women’s intimate sharing of the egg can be interpreted as the unstable and uncomfortable relationship between the West and Japan at this time and their sharing of ideas, goods, and cultures. The man is the West and stands dominate over its Japanese counterpart, as depicted by the woman. However, the relationship grows more equal and intimate as they stand with locked arms and faces pressed together. This represents Japan’s growing importance to the West as it began to emerge as a world super power. The final breaking of the yoke in the woman’s mouth emphasis Japan’s subordinate role to western powers and how it was unable to maintain all of its roots and traditions during this time.

In this way, Itami brings food to the forefront of cultural importance in Japan during the Bubble Era by using it to represent both our primitive desires as well as the fragile yet intimate relationship between Japan and the West.

United By Food

In Itami Jūzo’s Tampopo, Japanese culinary arts are portrayed as an extremely important factor of everyday culture and business which affects people of all ages from the young to the elderly. The film parodies the idea that all dishes including traditional common dishes such as ramen play a key role in the success of the Japanese economy. Although globalization is demonstrated to be occurring, the importance of the traditional culture remains strong in Japan. As demonstrated throughout the movie, businessmen and commoners alike all vehemently attempt to find or consume the best tasting food available. This urge hence leads to a greater consumption of food which in return is responsible for the growth of the economy of Japan who is constantly attempting to expand through the use of food.

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The mother caresses her child as he contently enjoys his mother’s milk and bond together as one.

       The final scene of Tampopo involves a mother nursing her infant on a bright day in the park accompanied by the sounds of a carnival in the background. The woman and her nursing child are shown siting on a bench at an eye-level medium shot which slowly transitions into an eye-level close up shot of the infant contently nursing from the mother.

         The mother is a symbol of the people who consume food and aids in the maintenance of the Japanese economy. Based on how the mother is dressed in this scene, it is difficult to determine whether her diet consumes of only traditional foods such as ramen or a mixture of traditional along with other types of cuisines. But, it does not matter what she consumes because she must eat in order to produce milk for the child. This discrepancy in her eating emphasizes the unity found in Japanese food despite the globalization taking place. Both foods such as ramen and French foods help fuel important people much like the businessmen are powered by French cuisine and Tampopo makes a living selling ramen.

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(Left) The gentleman reveals his knowledge of French cuisine by requesting specific French drinks, (Right) Tampopo found in her new restaurant made possible by her success as a ramen chef as revealed through her attire.

           The child nursing is a symbol of the Japanese culture which thrives on food. As mentioned before, the milk produced by mother will not differ depending on what she eats much like the economy will not differ if traditional food is sold alongside other cuisines. In the film, the more aristocratic people cater to exotic cuisine while the commoners are content with ramen hence revealing a sense a unity among each other by food that is demonstrated though the unity formed by the dependence of the child for the mother’s milk.

         The music in the background evokes a sense of peace which is seen after the child receives what he wants. The happiness of the child combined with the joyful tone of the music reveal the conclusion that there will continue to be positive growth so long as the food needs of all are met. Throughout the film, different characters whether they remained alive or dead in some cases, retained a positive attitude at the end due to eating what they enjoyed hence making this end scene a significant image that emphasizes the purpose of the film.

Tampopo: Challenging the Social Status Quo

The master teaching his pupil the art of ramen consumption.

The master teaching his pupil the art of ramen consumption.

Itami Juzo’s 1985 Tampopo presents the story of a widowed mother trying to save a failing noodle stand. The film contains a great deal of small narratives that ultimately compose the entire story. Itami uses food as a focal point to illustrate and even satirize social issues within Japan, including class distinctions and the Westernization of Japanese culture.

The opening scene of the film portrays an older, presumably wise man instructing his young pupil on the art of ramen consumption. All of the following scenes build off of the seeds planted by this introduction, making this the single most important scene in the film.  First and foremost, this scene introduces food as the focal point of the film.  Itami centered this film on food because it plays a key role in numerous aspects of many different societies, and can be used as a jumping off point to introduce discussion of different aspects of society at large.

Itami also introduces another major point of this film in the opening scene: challenging the social status quo.  The food being consumed in this opening scene is ramen.  Ramen has traditionally been regarded as common food, with no special or significant value attached to it.  This is what makes the ritual of ramen eating portrayed within the scene so strange; there is no justification for, or history of, such theatrics for consumption of lowly ramen. By rethinking tradition in the opening scene of the movie, Itami sets the stage for this to be repeated throughout the film.  This is evident with the scene in which the young businessman does not follow the example of his superiors and instead orders a high-culture French dish.

The portrayal of the ramen eating ritual also serves two other very important roles. The first is that it elevates the status of ramen within the minds of the audience, which is vital if the audience is to be drawn into the film.  If ramen is viewed as a lowly, common food as it traditionally is outside of the film, then there would be no need for Tampopo’s ramen shop to elevate the quality with ramen.  The audience, along with the other characters in the film, would be satisfied with mediocre ramen because it is a mediocre meal.  By elevating ramen to a form of art, Itami creates a need for the restaurant to elevate the quality of noodle. The second of these is that it gives Goro the expertise to properly critique Tampopo’s ramen, and guide the shop to a heightened level of success.  Goro’s knowledge of the art of ramen allows the audience to believe he is capable of passing on his knowledge of ramen to Tampopo.

Itami continually uses food in many different ways as a tool to disrupt the traditional status quo within Tampopo. He accomplishes this not only by using food to directly illustrate his point, but also as a framework to use other methods and build characters. The introductory scene serves as a building block on which all of Itami’s arguments are built.  Without this scene, the movie would lose all merit, and suffer from both a lack of substance and an inability to portray a believable story to the audience.

 

 

Food and Sex and Fun

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I was really intending to upload what comes after this, but I wasn’t brave enough. Here an extravagant meal is being wheeled into a western styled hotel room.

In this scene, reproduction and food as a form of sustenance are choicely placed in juxtaposition; both as factors of primary survival instincts of the human race…But let’s be real, that’s not why this scene caught every one’s attention in class.

We could definitely go down the classical studies route, where deities of love, lust, fortune, and beauty are largely goddesses in every branch of mythology, but I am no expert, so let’s not. Regardless, Itami paints a clear picture that eating shouldn’t be a serious affair. There was a ton of biting and licking involved in the scene, and not all of them are for food. But the subtle reference to similar human gestures for both activities probably isn’t an accident. He emphasizes that eating should be an interactive experience; pointing out the fact that good food should stimulate all of the senses. The presentation, smell, and taste should all be carefully considered for a well put together meal, most definitely for western cuisines, but even more so for good ol’ Ramen. Remember the old man stroking his three pieces of pork at the beginning of the film? Well who knows what interesting things are going on in his mind then? Itami also restates the social aspect of food eating, and of the intimacy prevalent between people who share a meal together, both among families, and apparently lovers too. In regards of filming techniques, the exaggerated camera close-ups are really as intimate as it gets. Nothing like great food to bring people together right?

Although the movie embodies the general theme of promoting appreciation of “traditional comfort food” as opposed to blindly following the fad, it is by no means bashing on western culture or western food. Itami selectively appropriates scenes of modernity, obviously celebrating the young entrepreneurial spirits of post-war Japan, while highlighting that western cuisine (and room service for that matter), is still largely endorsed by progressive yuppies as opposed to older nostalgic folks. In effect he is also depicting the animal like craze behind globalization in Japan, and the untamed nature of modernization and technological advancements driven by a new generation. Which isn’t all that bad, I mean look at how much fun the two of them are having. But of course everything is better in moderation (some parts were going a bit too far in my opinion).

A genuine playfulness carries itself throughout the entire film, and this scene in particular, but if I’d say if there is anything we can be positively sure of, it is that there is nothing more effective in capturing the attention of the audience during a two-hour movie than with a sex scene, and Itami sure knows that well.

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Lastly I leave you with a question to ponder; what the heck is going on here? Is this actually something people do for fun? By the way, where did the word “food orgasm” even come from?

 

Ramen-tic Artistry: Tradition and Artistry in Every Bite

The Japanese comedy, Tampopo, is a ramen western film with multiple intertwining plots occurring simultaneously. Although the most prominent of the plots focuses on the story of Tampopo, a cook and owner of a small ramen shop, who is determined to master the perfect Japanese noodle recipe, the director, Juzo Itami, strategically incorporates additional scenes to enhance the importance food plays in Japanese culture. One scene in particular that exemplified the tradition ramen played in Japanese culture is the scene of an elderly food guru who teaches a young gentleman a valuable lesson on how to appreciate the artistry in a simple bowl of ramen soup.

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A food guru teaches a young man the traditional way to eat ramen soup (two-shot camera method).

 In this particular scene, the elderly man satirically demonstrates to his apprentice the traditional step by step process of eating ramen noodles. The aesthetic of Japanese cuisine is a true form of art.  From the elegantly placed shinachiku roots and chopped spring onions to the delicately prepared shimmering broth, every minor detail is prepared to absolute perfection.

In the setting, the young man and food master causally sit on counter stools at a ramen shop with full bowls of steaming ramen in front of each individual. Itami utilized symmetry and a two-shot, eye-level, medium distance camera set up to display the equality between the ramen consumers. Despite the generation gap between the two men, as the elder is dressed in traditional wear and the young man is dressed in a westernized Hawaiian shirt, the contents of the ramen dish remain identical.  Thus, symbolizing that ramen is a Japanese national dish meant to be eaten by all members of the community, not determinant by age or class. When the young man dives in to his bowl to begin devouring his noodles, the teacher lingers a bit to carefully examine and appreciate the work that went into creating the ramen meal. This comedic point in the film humorously serves to juxtapose the traditional Japanese cuisine culture with more western views on cuisine culture. This provides a prominent example emphasizing how highly respected the Japanese culture has for their traditional cuisine.

As the ceremonial gestures begin to take play, the mise-en-scene shifts to individual close-up shots of the food master and the ingredients of the actual ramen bowl. The food master further tells the young man that he must apologize and caress the pieces of pork. These demands give meat human characteristics. Though these demands seem somewhat outrageous, since meat was considered a sacred delicacy the food master is implying that one must treat their food with the same affection that they would to a lover.  Rather than using food as simply a source of fuel, it is more important to appreciate the journey each ingredient took to get mixed into the ramen dish displayed on the table and enjoy the quality in every tasteful bite.

This scene essentially acts as a foundation foreshadowing Tampopo’s story to greatness in the ramen making industry. The success in her creation of the most delicious ramen stems from embodying tradition and appreciation for the tasteful artistry in Japanese cuisine.

Tampopo: the importance of being patient

Before going onto the main story of Tampopo, Itami Juzo includes a scene where an old man, who has studied ramen for 40 years, tries to show a younger man the “right way” to eat ramen. This scene may be the most significant scene in the film Tampopo, for it reveals the main idea of the movie: you must take your time with food. This scene also suggests that all foods, even comfort food like ramen, are worthy of that respect and patience.

In the scene, the old sensei is very patient and goes through a slow and elaborate process to savor his meal. The camerawork is interesting and works with the main idea. For example, when the food is served, we see both characters in the frame, and it is easier to recognize the clear contrast between their attitudes towards the food. The younger man picks up his bowl right away, whereas the older man on the right patiently waits. The younger man is excited and ready to eat, while the old master keeps a solemn face without any movement. This contrast makes the viewers become curious as to what the older man is waiting for and thus become compelled to pay more attention to his words. Also, the camera does close-ups of not only the characters, but also the bowl of ramen. As the camera zooms up on a bowl of ramen from a bird’s eye view, it is as if we are looking through the characters’ eyes. Listening to the old master’s voice in the background, the viewers are put in the younger man’s position, a student who is eagerly listening to his sensei’s words. From the very beginning of the movie, this scene forces us to recognize the importance of having patience, as we are forced to listen to the master’s words. At the end of the scene, the old man finally picks up a slice of pork and puts it in his mouth, and his solemn face slowly lights up and he smiles. The camera moves from showing both characters to just showing the old man’s face, and focuses on his reaction. As the background fades out, it seems that the taste of pork placed the old master in his own world of joy. The ramen master’s patience paid off, and his happiness is apparently much greater than that of the younger man.

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The master finally smiles after tasting a slice of pork in his ramen.

The theme of patience is present throughout the movie Tampopo. For instance, in the French restaurant scene, the last guy, who overcame his low social status with his knowledge of French cuisine, takes a long time to order his food, asking questions about how it is made and who is in charge of making it, and so on. Tampopo’s quest of perfecting her ramen recipe takes a long time involving meeting different people, and visiting many restaurants with great patience. She struggles to figure out ways to perfect each steps of making ramen, such as cooking noodles and preparing soup, rather than working on them altogether. The scene with a customer choking on his noodles also highlights the importance of waiting and savoring food. The idea of taking time to prepare and eat food is apparently shown and stressed throughout the whole movie, though it is most evident in the first scene with the ramen master and his student.