Category Archives: food writing

Works Directly And Indirectly Referencing The Story of Momotaro: How Folk Tales Are Manipulated For Achieving Different Goals

Momotaro, the Peach Boy, is a famous traditional teenage warrior figure in Japanese culture. His story depicts Momotaro, a divine creature who jumped out from a big peach found by an old lady, goes to fight the Ogres(Oni’s) with the help of his dog, monkey and pheasant fellows that he gathered along the way. In the end of the story, Momotaro returns with victory. The story of Momotaro is ubiquitously famous in Japan, and because of the popularity of Momotaro’s story, the image of Momotaro has been integrated, directly and indirectly, into various works. By comparing the animated film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and the documentary film Minamata: The Victims and Their World to the national version of Momotaro’s story written by Iwaya Sazanami, we can understand how folk tales can be manipulated to serve different political purposes by making audiences gain empathy toward the issues in discussion, and therefore gaining support and agreement from the audiences. Specifically, The folkloric characteristics of the story of Momotaro, such as ambiguous time period,  ambiguous identity of characters, and inevitability of the presence of food and thus the impact of food, are important aspects for achieving this goal.

As a folkloric story, Momotaro doesn’t happen at a specific historical time; instead it is presented to happen merely “very, very long ago”. Even though this lack of specific time was certainly unintentional when the story was created, however, thanks to this ambiguity in time, later works can fit the Momotaro motif into any time period. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the story of Momotaro is fitted into the time period of World War II – more specifically, the Pearl Harbor Attack. By fitting in the Momotaro figure straightly into the animation, audience is tricked to think that since the battle of Momotaro is a glorious battle, then the battle in the animation, directly featuring Momotaro as the leader of the army, is also a glorious battle. The ambiguous identity of characters also play a role, enabling the anime makers to transform the small army into a large national army, while changing Momotaro’s image from a chunky, friendly boy to a solemn political leader. Because of the ambiguity of the characters’ identity in the original folk story, nobody would question the new enforced identities presented in the animation. Though the identity of the enemies, or the Oni’s, remain obscure, there are bold images and descriptions that indicate the enemy to be United States. For example, the enemy’s flag consists of stripes and stars on the left upper corner, which is incredibly similar to the national flag of United States; the enemy soldiers are all white figures, resembling Caucasian race; even the image of the island and the battleships are strikingly similar to Pearl Harbor and the ships there. What’s more, there are lines, such as “Blue demon, red demon, chase them all”, describing the American soldiers as the evil Oni’s, while

Scene in which the background music sings the line "Blue demon, red demon, chase them all".

Scene in which the background music sings the line “Blue demon, red demon, chase them all”.

promoting how righteous Momotaro and his army are. By directly putting Momotaro’s story in the World War II setting, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles serves as a propaganda, educating Japanese citizens that the attack of Japan on Pearl Harbor is a righteous act.

Minamata the documentary movie, on the other side, fits the Momotaro motif indirectly into the time period in which Minamata disease wreaked havoc. In the movie, though none of the explicit Momotaro figure, the dog, monkey and pheasant soldiers are present, the spirit of the Momotaro story is subtly integrated, as the victims of Minamata gathers and goes on a quest fighting against the Chisso Corporation, the company whose factory mercury release contaminated food. The united victims resemble Momotaro and his army, and the Chisso Corporation resembles the Oni’s. A part of the movie records how victims go on a march to where Chisso Corporation locates, protesting and fighting for a responsible solution. This march represents the journey Momotaro has, and his fighting against the Oni’s in Sazanami’s Momotaro story. In fact, the Chisso Corporation is directly associated with the Oni’s, as one speaker during the march announces: “We have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell”. However, in Minamata, the allusion to Momotaro is not a filming technique, nor a technique for creating political propaganda, but a real-life application of the story since the film is a documentary. By making allusion to Momotaro’s story, the victims of the Minamata gain tremendous empathy and support from bystanders who are of course very familiar with the story of Momotaro, and these bystanders then join the march, or the “army of Momotaro”, to keep on fighting. In conclusion, by fitting the motif of Momotaro into different historical time periods and onto different characters and persons, different goals can be achieved, depending on the issue in discussion.

Other than the ambiguity in time and identity of characters, the ubiquitous presence of food in stories also show how folk stories, the story of Momotaro in this case, can be manipulated. First of all, food exists in every story. No matter if it’s a folk tale, a prose, or any other genre, as long as there is a storyline, there exists food. The ubiquitous existence of food makes the impact of food tremendously important in all stories. In this case, food serves as a power that unites people in all three stories.

Food in both Sazanami’s Momotaro story and the Momotaro’s Sea Eagles unite people by giving them strength, faith and making them loyal to Momotaro. In both stories, the millet dumplings are the food Momotaro gives to his animal fellows. In Sazanami’s Momotaro story, by sharing millet dumplings, Momotaro makes friends with dog, monkey and pheasant, and he resolves conflicts between them using millet dumplings as well. By using millet dumplings, Momotaro is able to create his small army, with his fellows respecting and admiring him, willing to fight for him. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, millet dumplings also serve similar purpose, uniting the army together as Momotaro’s soldiers.

However, the detailed indication of food is different between the Sazanami’s Momotaro story and the Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. In Sazanami’s Momotaro story, millet dumplings build a rather intimate connection – friendship, and loyalty due to admiration and respect. The monkey, the dog, and the pheasant and Momotaro are more like brothers than merely a political leader and followers, in the sense that they develop intimate relationship with each other, and the animals all respect Momotaro. Millet dumplings also resemble kinship in Sazanami’s story: when Momotaro is leaving home, the Old Man and the Old Woman, who take care of Momotaro as parents, carefully prepare the millet dumplings for Momotaro.This symbolistically indicates that the millet dumplings contain the power of love, and that’s why the millet dumplings can have such a cohesive force that binds the fellows together. With the power of love and kinship coming from the millet dumplings, Momotaro and the animal fellows become brothers and fight together. This brother-like relationship between the dog, the monkey and the pheasant is carried on in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, however with a new layer of meaning and indication, as the millet dumplings also posses a new layer of meaning. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the soldiers are also united by the millet dumplings like brothers, but not brothers in an intimate way, but rather in the sense that they are all sons of Japan, the motherland, and they all fight for their motherland patriotically. Instead of showing kinship and friendship, the millet dumplings in the animation represents nationalism, which is the power that ties all the soldiers of the army

A monkey soldier happily eats a millet dumpling ration

A monkey soldier happily eats a millet dumpling ration

together. What’s more, the millet dumplings shows great literal dietary support, contrasting with the terrible diets of the enemy: the army of Momotaro is energetic, passionate and brave eating the millet dumplings, while the enemies, drinking alcohol, are sluggish and cowardly, only able to run away. In one scene, a monkey soldier becomes ultra-muscular after eating millet dumplings – the allusion of Popeye the Sailor here is integrated to exaggerate the literal dietary power of millet dumplings. Meanwhile, one captain from the enemy side is

A drunk, fat enemy general struggling on the ground, but unable to get up and run. There are alcohol bottles scattering around him on the ground.

A drunk, fat enemy general struggling on the ground, but unable to get up and run. There are alcohol bottles scattering around him on the ground.

presented to be obese and drunk, unable to get up from the floor, with several alcohol bottles lying by him, indicating his drunkenness, and thus reflecting on the terrible diets of the enemy’s army. By giving a contrast between the diets of the two sides, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle advocates Japan as the righteous side while bashing the Oni’s – United States, in this case.

While food positively unite people together in both stories that directly reference to Momotaro, food, or contaminated food in specific, unites people negatively in Minamata: The Victims and Their World: victims suffered from Minamata disease the contaminated food unite to fight against Chisso Corporation. Even though food in Minamata is a negative factor, it still unites the protagonists in the story just like millet dumplings unite protagonists in the other two stories, and the protagonists go on a quest fighting against the “evil Ogres”.

With the national version of Momotaro’s story by Iwaya Sazanami as an original story to refer to, the animated video Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, and the documentary film Minamata: The Victims and Their World both manipulates the story of Momotaro by playing with the ambiguity of time and characters, and inevitability of the presence of food and thus the impact of food as a uniting power. By playing with these characteristics of the story of Momotaro, folk tales – not just the story of Momotaro, but all folk tales in general – can be manipulated to serve different purposes by making audiences gain empathy toward the issues in discussion, and therefore gaining support and agreement from the audiences.


Momotarō: The Boy Who Lived (as a national hero)

Momotarō is one of Japan’s most influential fictional characters. Momotarō, or “peach-boy” in Japanese, has been the figurehead of many children’s cartoons, folk stories and the undisputed face of war propaganda in Japan. Existing once as a playful tale told to children, Momotarō became a doctrine attached to World War II propaganda. Nevertheless, Japanese propaganda remained very humble and true to the original story, using various elements from the story to recreate a sense of national pride. One such element is food. In Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotarō, an accurate retelling of the original folktale, there is a clear indication of how food acts as a unifier throughout the story. Unity was not only needed during the war, but was also imperative to locals who suffered from the Minamata disease, as seen in the 1971 Tsuchimoto Noriaki documentary. This essay focuses on the unity achieved through food across the different Japanese mediums, exploring how different narratives in both literary and visual texts dictate the symbolic or material nature of food.

The most apparent reference to food seen in Momotarō is in the boy’s very name. Momotarō, otherwise known as the peach-boy, could easily be interpreted as a symbol of sustenance and longevity. The whole notion of a ripe peach making its way down the river into the hands of a poor old lady strengthens the relation of peaches to longevity. In a way, it hints to youth and the continuity of life. Furthermore, Momotarō arrives from a distant land (personally, this seems very similar to the story of Moses, even though the stories are not to be associated) and his origins are purposely vague for various reasons. One reason is that it helps the public associate with Momotarō himself. Rather than belong to a certain area or people, Momotarō is given to the public through the ambiguity of his origin. In essence, since Momotarō belongs to no one, he belongs to everyone. This idea is resonated in the victims of Minamata who seek justice for the atrocities they have been subject to.

Like Momotarō, the people of Minamata, as documented by the Tsuchimoto film, unite against the exploitative business that has plagued their land. The Tsuchimoto documentary does justice to the people of Minamata, revealing how devastated they were by the spread of the disease. It was only after being ravaged for numerous years that the locals decided that enough was enough. They formed a large group of people that went to Osaka in order to fight the greedy capitalists, and used Momotarō as a unifying anchor. Their efforts, thoughts and principles were all brought together in order to achieve a greater good, with the Momotaro’s public picture holding it all together.  Hence, Momotarō unified these people under a sense of resistance. People were fighting for their rights to life, health and well-being, just as Momotarō fought the “Oni” who plagued the land.

Although Momotarō existing as the peach-boy is a symbol in itself, there are other examples of the importance of food. The most distinct and memorable of these is the millet dumplings that are seen in Momotarō tales across a plethora of Japanese mediums. Whether it is literary, as depicted in Sazanami’s text, or seen through Seo Mitsuyo’s anime: Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1943), there is an unarguable importance to the millet dumplings. Beginning with the text, Momotarō uses his precious millet dumplings to sanction the relationship amongst the animals he meets along his journey. As described in the story, he gives each animal half a dumpling. This is a clear example of how food is a symbol of camaraderie, and unifies Momotarō and his animal friends under one common goal. In some ways, Mitsuyo’s anime echoes this idea. In one memorable scene, an anthropomorphic monkey refuses to board the plane until he secures his millet dumplings. These dumplings are then consumed moments before the battle ensues, revealing a sense nationalistic pride associated with this type of food.

Essentially, what the millet dumplings reveal is that food symbolizes a sense of unity for the Japanese people. In Momotarō, it brought Momotarō, a dog, a monkey and a swallow together. For children, talking monkeys and birds are sort of magical, and keep children occupied from the underlying message. A message that was at the center of Japanese propaganda and was the central power to the people of Minamata, it was the idea of unity. It was the understanding that different species could align themselves under a common goal, as the Japanese people would need to do if they were to succeed. It did not matter where you were from or who you were. There was a greater good, a vision larger than any single individual, and only in the unity of the Japanese people could it be achieved.

Unity was a central theme across the different texts and narrative platforms seen in both Momotarō and Tsuchimoto Minamata documentary, yet one other theme was equally important. And this was the idea of a struggle between good and bad. For Momotarō, it was the peach-boy’s valiant quest alongside his animal friends to defeat the evil “oni”. In Minamata, it was the plagued victims against the gluttonous businessmen. This idea of good vs. bad was not only central to the propaganda itself, but in allowing the people of Japan to associate with Momotarō. It allowed the story to be “open-source”, or subject to the interpretation of the audience. This helps make association easy, because all that is needed is a figment of good vs. bad, which could be interpreted into each and every one of the above situations.

Regardless of the theme, the method of interpretation is equally important. Let’s take Minamata for example, a documentary which used a combination of expository and participatory filmmaking techniques. This approach was important in juxtaposing the sickly people with the newly built factories and profits. It helps the audience identify with the people, as they are subject to interviews by the director. In addition, almost nobody will argue that the “voice-overs” commonly used in expository filmmaking are not important factors in creating sympathy to either side. This could be easily contrasted to Mitsuyo’s anime, where a very different medium in the form of anime is used. Yet as was the case with Minamata, there is a distinct effort by Mitsuyo to help the audience relate to the characters. There was a clear indication that the Japanese were the good guys, most of which was indicated through hyperbole, as one side was almost angelical in their good, and the other demonical in their evil. What this meant for Momotarō was that he transcended his literal characterization, meaning that Momotarō could be anybody, can come from anywhere, but he remained a symbol of good and hope.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that food works as a unifier in various mediums and across a multitude of Japanese stories. Whether it is through the classic tale of Momotarō, the war propaganda, or the symbolism underpinning Minamata, there is distinct omnipresence of unity. Moreover, unity was always in the face of an oppressive injustice, hence asserting the importance of good in the face of bad. In a way, this suggests that unity can only be achieved in the face of a greater evil, in an attempt to achieve the greater good. Ultimately, hardly anyone could argue the importance of Momotarō to the Japanese people, in fact, I have grown quite fond of Peach-boy myself.

Sexualization and Feminization of Food

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki uses the sexualization of women and the feminization of food as a means of dramatizing the notion of exoticism in The Gourmet Club. In the first sentence of the story, Tanizaki describes the members of the Gourmet Club and how they “…loved the pleasures of the table not a whit less than they loved those of the bedroom” (99).  Here, there is an immediate connection between sexual pleasure and food, a pattern adopted by the author throughout the story to emphasize the dynamic theme of exoticism.

The story introduces the members of the Gourmet Club as men who seek to find new fine foods and flavors. When the men “…discovered some novel flavor, they took as much pride and pleasure in it as if they’d found a beautiful woman for themselves” (99). The sexualization of food in this example shows that the driving force of these men when finding new flavors is to reach an ultimate goal that involves a feeling of pleasure. The feeling of discovering a new flavor of food is akin to that of finding a beautiful woman, as both are “novel”, and provide the opportunity to learn, or “discover” new things about their subject. This relationship between sex and food is an unfamiliar one. In this way Tanizaki is able to draw an analogy between exploring food and a beautiful woman for the first time.

Toward the end of The Gourmet Club, Tanizaki describes a scene to the reader in which the members of the club are taking a look at a menu for the evening. Tanizaki weaves an erotic scene as he writes, “…it takes no great imagination to picture the excitement it aroused when the members of the club discovered [Deep-fried Woman, Korean Style] on that evening’s menu” (138). There is an explicit and immediate relationship between food and sex as the men become “aroused” at the thought of a dish that consists of “…the flesh of a woman, deep-fried as tempura” (138). Tanizaki is feminizing the dish through personifying it as a woman. He creates an image of a woman as an item on the menu waiting to be devoured by the men, should they choose to order her. As in the previous example, there is a sexual relationship formed between the men and their feelings toward food. Food satisfies physical hunger, while sex can satisfy a different sort of physical or even emotional hunger. Tanizaki makes this hunger one and the same. It is an extreme relationship that is key to the story as a whole. The men have an ultimate goal of finding new exotic flavors and the feeling that overcomes them once they accomplish this goal is one of sexual pleasure and arousal.

A common facet of exoticism is tying together the unfamiliar and, in this case, erotic. These examples of the reoccurring relationship between food, sex, and women, embody this aspect of exoticism. One wouldn’t necessarily expect food to be compared to beautiful women. One also wouldn’t expect food to have the ability to induce sexual pleasure and arousal in men. Tanizaki is able to connect food to exoticism through the sexualization and feminization of different foods. This makes this relationship all the more powerful, therefore dramatizing the idea of exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

Euphoria: An Analysis of Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Exotic is strictly defined as something originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country. However, to be truly exotic is not simply to have a foreign pattern or single flavor; rather, it is a symphony of different experiences and emotions evoked by the item in question. This idea of a complete exotic experience is dramatized in Tanizaki Junichirō’s The Gourmet Club through the use of food.

Many people have said that the true value of something is not in the destination, but the journey; this idea is also prevalent in The Gourmet Club. The five men in the club ceaselessly search for delicious food, wandering the streets of Tokyo in search of that special, exotic meal. “They scoured all the eateries of Tokyo […] like curio collectors rummaging about in dubious secondhand shops on the off chance of making an unusual find” (102). Their quest emphasizes the importance of what they are searching for: food. To them, food is not simply something to survive; it is their reason for living. The comparison to curio collectors also suggests an exotic element to their search and implies a sort of discovery. Both the mystery and the discovery contribute to the idea of exoticism.

Another element of exoticism is the emphasis on beauty and the euphoria of experiencing it. This is exactly what the Count encounters at Chechiang Hall. Even before entering the place, he is thrown into an ethereal reality where his senses of taste and sound combine: “[…] when suddenly the melody became full, rounded, and plaintive like a voice that is thick with tears, he thought of a rich broth of braised sea cucumbers, so full-flavored that each mouthful keeps permeating one’s taste buds to their very roots” (109). Junichirō’s use of synesthesia links the deep emotions of the music to the complexity of a delicious meal; food becomes an emotional experience for both the Count and the reader. The fact that the music alone is enough to evoke such a reaction from the Count is only a prelude to the exoticism he encounters in the Hall itself. There he finds dishes he never encountered or dreamed of before. These dishes serve as inspiration for his exotic meals that can only be truly savored using the entire body: “[…]They did not merely taste the cuisine with their tongues: they had to taste it with their eyes, their noses, their ears, and at times with their skin. […] every part of them had to become a tongue” (131). Not only are the meals exotic, but also the way the men enjoy their food is completely novel. Mind and body must become completely immersed in the dining experience to fully savor the meal, suggesting euphoria in the act of eating. The emphasis on experiencing the food, rather than simply eating it, furthers the theme of exoticism. The ecstasy of food clearly demonstrates exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

The complete experience of food, both leading up to and the physical act of eating, dramatizes exoticism in The Gourmet Club. Junishirō demonstrates through emphasizing exoticism, that for the members of the club, food is something alluring, something to be coveted. He proves that food can be more than simple sustenance; it can be a euphoric, exotic experience.

Literary Analysis of “The Factory Ship”

A factory ship is a floating plant that processes crabs and assembles several small boats for hunting crabs. The Factory Ship was written by Kobayshi Takiji and published in 1929. It describes the plight of unemployed laborers, impoverished farmers, and poverty-stricken students who are hired by the factory ship and engaged in the burdensome crab-hunting job for a long period. The crew becomes reduced to objects when the conditions worsen and food is used to stress their transformation. Eventually, they can no longer bear the abuse from the superintendent, Asakawa, so they bind together and rebel against the leaders of the ship.

In the story, the principal way food is used to dramatize the horrible working conditions is through the crew’s complaints about the food and how their bodies are negatively impacted by of the lack of food. Even though food may not be the focus of the story, it is one of the driving factors of the fiction and the exploding fuse that triggers the conflict between the grumpy superintendent and laborers. Owing to the extremely unfair distribution of food, the tension between superintendent and laborers becomes worse and worse, and finally the strike breaks out.

At the beginning of fiction, the superintendent tries every way to take advantage of the laborers and pushes them to work harder and harder. When the confliction between the different classes intensifies, the commuter that is sent from the company brings them good food. “Rice wine, distilled liquor, dried cuttlefish, boiled vegetables, cigarettes, and caramels (p. 51)” After loading the crab cans, laborers are allowed to celebrate the harvest of crabs. However, from what I can see, the celebration to encourage laborers works on the opposite effect. Because the better food causes discontent compared with what laborers used to have to eat before. “ The fishermen had their usual meal of rice so crumbly that they couldn’t pick up a satisfying mouthful on their chopsticks and salty bean soup with thin shavings of something or other is floating on top of it (p. 55).” When laborers have no idea how the Bourgeoisie’s life is, definitely they will not realize that there is a huge contrast between their lives.  After tasting better food and noticing that the distribution of food looks ridiculous, laborers will disdain how they are treated before. Protest and indignation will be caused, and also, the emotion of revolting will expand quickly.

At the very last, the indignation reaches the peak and the strike goes on. Though the first try does not work out, the second one is already on the way. In term of the whole fiction, food is not the main focus but a significant part. It drives the story on and makes laborers realize how unfair the social distribution is. Perhaps Kobayashi tried to criticize society using this point, that what the proletarian pursues is fair.

Food Things: People as Food

The whole notion of people as “things” is paradoxical at a most basic level, yet in the struggle between the proletarian and bourgeoisie classes, it is a common form of classification. Kobayashi Takiji’s The Factory Ship illustrates how people can be treated as lifeless, inanimate and (as is often the case with Kobayashi) grotesque “things”. His story describes the unrelenting life of laborers turned sailors on-board the Hakko Maru, a Japanese factory ship of the coast of Kamchatka. Kobayashi uses food related metaphors and images to intensify the thingification of people, thus helping him convey the inequality of Japanese society at the time.

Kobayashi often uses repulsive metaphors when referring to the laborers. A commonly used and vivid metaphor is seen when mentioning the factory hands. These young men who are living under absurd conditions were described by the narrator as “rotting, fly covered corpses infested with maggots” (43). Such a metaphor links the image of food; in particular, rotting meat. This image is very accurate; for like rotting meat, the laborers are not totally worthless, but they will end up rotten anyway. Yet this is of very little importance to the capitalists who are profiting of the dying laborers. The bourgeoisie “don’t think of any of you as human beings” (24), one laborer complains, and this is the essential dilemma they face. Laborers, in the opinion of capitalists, are expendable pieces of rotting meat, which will inevitably be replaced as they rot into oblivion.

Kobayashi also uses food to help dramatize the violent environment laborers faced on a day-to-day basis on-board the factory ship. The laborer’s hands are described as “raw and red as crab claws” (11). This image portrays the workers struggle and hardship, as the comparison to crab claws reveals a sense of suffering that can be perceived in the laborer’s hands. In addition, the use of words such as “raw” and “red” alludes to the blood laborer’s lose as they are forced to work. Kobayashi does not stop there, and describes the flesh being “torn from the workers’ bodies like filets of fish” (40). This image is a sort of continuation of the previous one, but the toll the factory ship has taken is now evident in the workers’ bodies. Nonetheless, this struggle was justified because it was for the “sake of the nation” (40), but no one believed that in the end, especially those who stood at the very top.

Kobayashi used food to help dramatize the thingification of the laborers on board the Hakko Maru. The images he chose to use were those of despair, lifelessness and deterioration. These images help reader’s understand how laborers were seen by the capitalists in charge. Consequently, the underlying propaganda used to motivate the worker’s reveals itself. The laborers were told to work for the empire and its people, only to find out this was a facade the bourgeoisie employed for personal gain. In conclusion, it was the proletarian realization of unity that would overcome abuse, thus making laborers more than just things.

The New Tampopo Ramen Shop: Symbol of The Spirit of Japanese Reform

In my opinion, the scene in which Tampopo’s new ramen shop opens up is the most important scene in the whole movie, not only because it presents the achievement of Tampopo with the help of Goro and his friends, but also because it implies the spirit of Japanese reform under Western influence: accepting the Western culture, but keeping the Japanese essential, and developing Japan’s own unique hybrid culture.

The scene starts with a low-angle shot of Tampopo’s Ramen shop’s building, with a dandelion painted on the white wall. The Ramen shop is in fact just a two-story or three-story bungalow, however the long-angle shot makes it appear larger like a mansion, which indicates the new status of the ramen shop – it’s no longer just a run-down restaurant, but a new unique shop that will attract customers.

Then the camera shifts to Goro and his friends who helped Tampopo, being fascinated by the new appearance of the shop. The low-angle close-up here depicts their expression very well, and shows how incredible the new building looks to them as their mouths open, making “wow” sounds.

Tampopo in her new restaurant

Tampopo in her new restaurant

The fellows cheer and enter the shop, and Tampopo, the heroine in the movie, becomes the center of attention. As the screenshot shows, aside from Tampopo’s new attire, the entire shop is refurnished into a western style. The wall is now white, with clear glass skylight. All the bowls and plates are changed into white, and the counter and chairs are changed to a modern western style. A clear glass jar with fresh flowers and a modern-styled telephone are put on the modern counter. Pots and pans are now hanged orderly at back wall, and even the seasoning jars are switched to modern-styled glass ones. Together with Tampopo’s master chef attire, the new Tampopo Ramen shop looks like – instead of a traditional cheap Japanese ramen shop – an high-class and expensive Italian Restaurant.

And this is where the spirit of Japanese reform comes in. Tampopo has accepted the new changes that makes her shop better, including making the shop modern and western-styled. However, the essential of the restaurant is still ramen, the old, “ordinary” Japanese food. This spirit is expressed more explicitly as Tampopo goes out of the restaurant and hangs her old “RAMEN” label onto the white western-styled front door.

In the first half of the scene as the fellows are visiting Tampopo before the shop opens, an elegant waltz melody is played in the background, which creates a cheerful and light-hearted atmosphere. Then as customers begin to flow inside, the melody changes to a somewhat symphony-like style then variates into the theme melody of the movie, which shows that the goal of the story has been accomplished, and this is the happy finale of the story. As Goro steps out of the restaurant, he sees a line forming for the restaurant, and the line consists of people from different class: students, office workers, foreign businessmen, builders… This mise-en-scene not only shows the success of Tampopo’s restaurant, but also represents the success of Japanese reform: creating their own hybrid culture, and making it attractive and accessible to people from all parts of the society around the world.

Do you know the right way to eat Ramen?

Tampopo, a Japanese movie directed by Juzo Itami, is about a single mother tampopo who runs a ramen restaurant but is struggling with its business. One day, tampopo meets a guy called Goro, and Goro figures out that the reason why tampopo’s ramen isn’t very popular is because the taste of ramen is bad. With Goro’s help, tampopo starts to learn how to make decent ramen in order to gain her customers back. In this movie, Juzo Itami uses food as the main theme, as well as uses lots of characters with different personalities, talks about the relationship between food and people. Other than that, he also wants the audience to pay attention to Japanese food customs in this movie. Therefore, Juzo Itami inserts some little details about ramen eating customs and uses those details to show that Japan is a country that emphasizes on keeping their good customs.


In the beginning of this movie, there is a scene which is hilarious but catches everyone’s eyes. A guy is reading a book and the book is about how to eat ramen.  The “right way” to eat ramen almost makes everyone laugh. Even though the “right way” to eat ramen sounds silly, it not only reflects the Japanese eating custom, but also reflects one of the Japanese traditions, which is to show respect to the food and to the people whoever cook the food. According to some other Japanese eating customs, for example, before Japanese eat their meals, they always say “いただきます” (I am about to eat the food in front of me) to show the gratitude for the food they about to eat and after they are done, they say “ごちそうさまでした”(It was a feast), which is another phrase of appreciation, means that it has been a feast whether the food was really a feast or not matters little.



In this scene, those people are doing the same thing, drinking up their ramen soup. When Japanese people eat ramen, they usually finish their soup because they they think that the soup represents the best part of ramen. Furthermore, they want to show respect to people who make their ramen and this action also shows that they don’t waste food.

Other than the specific ramen eating style, in Japanese tea ceremony and Japanese art of flower arrangement, both of two activities have specific ways to performance. In Japanese tea ceremony, the aim is to forget all disturbing thoughts and respect the relationship between the hosts and the guests.  During the processes of both Japanese tea ceremony and flower arrangement, each action looks simple but when people connect a series of actions together, these actions seem long and complicated, but they also represents that Japanese never give up keeping their good customs and aim to spread good customs all over the world. Besides, they also want their young generations to know more about Japanese customs, traditions, and cultures through different kinds of activities.

Tampopo is not only a comedy, but also teaches people certain kinds of things about food as well as food customs. The director Juzo Itami wants everyone who has watched this movie to know more about Japan, Japanese people and Japanese traditions. By introducing the way to eat ramen, Juzo Itami also wants to tell people that Japan is a country that never stops working on keeping good customs.

Cook with Joy

Screenshot of Omelette Rice-Cooking

The homeless man is frying rice for the omelette rice dish. The speed of frying is so fast that the screen cannot really take it clearly in one frame.

In the movie Tampopo, the heroine, Tampopo, goes to a group of homeless men to invite their sensei to teach her cooking. During the invitation talk, a homeless man and Tampopo’s son, Tabo, sneak into a kitchen. The man cooks omelet rice for Tabo. The scene of making omelet rice is important because it is the first time the film introduces cooking as something desirable and joyful. Before this scene, Tampopo struggles with cooking and considers it as a way to make a living. The scene marks a turning point where Tampopo changes her attitude towards cooking.

The sneaking results in suspense, so that the audience are surprised by the next scene. This surprise can make a deeper impression on the viewers. When the homeless man and Tabo sneak into a door, the camera takes a bird’s-eye shot, reminding viewers of their identity as outsiders. The shot angle evokes viewer’s desire to look into the door. Thus, when a kitchen shows up on the screen, the homeless man astonishes viewers with his attempt to cook, which leads to more curiosity on how he cooks. Since the scene of the homeless man cooking is the consequence of the sneaking scene, the latter is an amazing start for the crucial part of the former.

As the man starts cooking, the entry of a guard and stealthy background music invoke tension, adding more spice to the cooking. The camera shoots the guard from the front with a slightly low angle. The approaching posture of the guard makes the music rhythm sound faster, causing accumulated tension.

In contrast, the man pays no attention to the risk of getting caught. The frame I choose is the scene where the homeless man fries the rice. It is difficult to keep everything in the pot, not to mention flipping the food in the pot. However, the homeless man does it calmly without hesitation. The screen is filled with a top view of the frying rice, focusing completely on the food and nothing else. This bird eye’s shot of the pot therefore fulfilled the audience’s mind with cooking. The characters and viewers all seem so captivated by the cooking that the guard is not important any more. The existence of guard sets off the concentration of the homeless man and viewers on the cooking. The situation that viewers are so immersive in the cooking scene demonstrates how much they enjoy the cooking, not to mention the homeless man himself.

The homeless group in Tampopo is so unique. Compared to the general definition of the homeless people, who have no home, and, in fact, have nothing, this homeless group do not need anything else, because food enlightens and enriches their life. They enjoy food, and they understand the art of cooking. On the other hand, Tampopo, in a better financial situation, is tortured by the disastrous soup she makes during her research on Ramen before going to the homeless men. At that point, she had no idea how pleasant cooking can be; cooking for her is only a way of making a living. However, things change after Tabo, returning from the journey of cooking omelet rice secretly, and Sensei, who teaches the homeless men how to enjoy cook, joins Tampopo. Hence, this scene is important as it changes Tampopo’s cooking ideology. Rather than merely cooking to make money and support life, she learn to cook with Joy.

Extra Credit: Astroboy, Film Review

By: Natalie Jongjaroenlarp

Tezuka’s Astroboy, an animated television series, is about a boy robot created to replace a scientist’s son who passed away. The scientist, Doctor Tenma, through his depression and sorrow over the death of his son, desperately denies that his son is gone. Once Astroboy comes into his life, he tries his best to teach the boy how to live like a regular, human boy. When that fails, however, he sells the robot to a circus without another thought to the boy’s feelings.

This film has grotesque, dark moments that reflect german expressionism. The stereotypes and characteristics of the feeling of claustrophobia, the dark shadows, the mad scientist caricature, and the doppelgänger and split personality effect are prevalent in this film. In the beginning, the frankenstein-like music coupled with the birth of what seems like a monstrosity coming into being help to create the german expressionistic atmosphere. Meanwhile, Doctor Tenma laughs wildly as his creation of Astroboy becomes real, much like a mad scientist. This foreshadows the dark things that will happen to the character of Astroboy later. Also, there are times when Astroboy resembles something of a younger Doctor Tenma. That is why it is so heartbreaking when the scientist sells the boy. It seems like he is selling a part of himself away, as he tries his best to move on after the tragic death of his son. The doppelgänger characteristic of German expressionism comes into play especially during the scene where Doctor Tenma is debating whether or not he should create Astroboy. He has an internal war with himself, as he struggles to come to terms with the recent tragic accident that took the life of his one and only son.

The main point of the film is driven home at the end when Astroboy saves the circus master. He treated the boy with such cruelty, yet he was saved by him in the end. This reveals that everyone should always be treated with absolute kindness because you never know what may happen in the future. As they say, what goes around comes around. This film stars a character that all children love.

The appeal of Astroboy not only comes from the film or tv series, it also comes from the advertising and merchandise. Children everywhere would be thrilled to see candy with Astroboy’s face on it. Sales increased quite a bit once the decision was made to use Astroboy as a strategy. Because children identified with the brand so much and Astroboy was literally everywhere, it made it easy for Japan’s largest candy company to make a lot of money. This same idea was later copied by other manufacturing companies once they realized that the use of popular cartoon characters worked. However, once they began to use the actor’s image, from the tv show, alongside the face of the cartoon, the strategy did not work as well. The problem was that children identified the actor with other characters from other shows.