Category Archives: Tampopo

Parallels of Consumption: Food as a Reflection of Social Hierarchies in Japanese Film

The interactions between humans and the food that they consume is more than a simple matter of sustenance or survival. In his documentary Minamata: The Victims and Their World, Tsuchimoto Noriaki provides an intimate and in-depth portrait of the Minamata residents affected by large-scale industrialization, exploring how the consumption of food and its subsequent effect on a certain community reflects the broader dynamics of society. This idea is carried throughout the films Tampopo and Giants and Toys in the directors’ treatment of their respective female protagonists, revealing a common narrative shared by the women and the food they are surrounded by, and how this parallel between the individual and the object of consumption reflects relationships between marginalized people and structures of power.

Tsuchimoto’s documentary on the residents of Minamata and their victimization by the mercury poisoning caused by the Chisso company factory that was established in Minamata provides a compelling nonfictional example of the close relationship between a community and the food it consumes, and how structures of socioeconomic power profoundly affects this relationship and therefore the individuals which make up the community. Tsuchimoto establishes the intimacy of the film with its very first shot, of a fishing boat on calm waters. The stillness of the scene implies a sense of harmony between the Minamata fishermen and their natural environment which is the source of the food that they consume. In this scene, there is only the ambient noise of the environment serving as the soundtrack. This choice of soundtrack carries throughout the film—there is no background music which would disingenuously dramatize the story that Tsuchimoto wishes to portray, a deliberate choice which creates a naturalistic atmosphere throughout the documentary.

With the stage set for an up-close portrait of the experiences of the Minamata residents, Tsuchimoto goes on to tell their stories through interviews, revealing the parallels between the consumption of food and structures of power. In Minamata, the residents’ lives became deeply and tragically affected by the food they consumed. One resident tells how the fish affected by the Chisso factory’s dumping of waste into the water seemed like an “easy catch”, not realizing that it was because they were, in fact, poisoned. The subsequent consumption of these diseased fish by the residents of Minamata spread the thus-named “Minamata disease” among the population. In the case of Minamata, the ways in which the residents themselves were marginalized by big business and subsequently an apathetic government was made physically manifest in Minamata disease. The residents, who were disempowered by the establishment of the factory and its monopolization of the economic livelihood of the area, became physically disempowered as well by the mercury poisoning caused by Chisso. The consequences of consuming the poisoned fish, then, became a literal representation of how the Chisso company exerted and abused its power over the residents of Minamata. Thus for the residents of Minamata, the food that they consumed became a symbol of their marginalization within the larger structures of socioeconomic and political power.

The idea of food mirroring the individual or the community comes across in fictional films as well in a very pronounced and deliberate way. In the 1985 film Tampopo, directed by Itami Juzo, the eponymous Tampopo rises to success alongside her once-humble ramen shop. In the film, Itami frames Tampopo as humble in a number of ways. To begin with, her name means “dandelion”, a common flower, a weed that grows close to the earth. She owns a ramen shop, and on top of her livelihood being that of serving humble, commmonplace, comfort food, it is not a particularly good ramen shop, either. At the start of Tampopo’s narrative, it is established that she runs her late husband’s ramen shop, focusing her livelihood around a deceased man and as thus providing an example of how Tampopo is indebted to the patriarchal structures of the society that she lives in.

Tampopo surrounded by men

Throughout the film, Tampopo is not only guided by a number of men in improving her ramen and her restaurant, but her main goal becomes to impress certain male consumers of her ramen. Itami chooses to make Tampopo the only recurring female character of importance in the film, the rest delegated to one-shot vignettes. In this decision, Itami isolates Tampopo, contrasting her singular femaleness against a backdrop of men who are both helping and opposing her, thus emphasizing Tampopo’s relationship as a woman living within the patriarchy with the men surrounding her. Tampopo ultimately wins the approval of her male critics through her ramen, and as thus, the product which she makes to be consumed by the general public becomes the vehicle of her own empowerment as a woman. In Tampopo’s narrative, the men are the ones who hold the power to approve or disapprove of her product. As with the residents of Minamata, in the fictional narrative of Tampopo, what one consumes becomes a symbol for relationships of power. As a humble underdog, Tampopo confronts her own marginalization via the production of food for the consumption of others. The victory of Tampopo’s ramen is synonymous with her own personal victory as an individual.

92e42b0b0e94e954074e951bb5c7c45b

The mass manufacturing of Kyoko

In the 1958 avant-garde film Giants and Toys directed by Masumura Yasuzo, the parallel relationship between a woman and products of consumption comes through in the character of Kyoko and her rise to stardom through the sponsorship of a caramel company. In Giants and Toys, Kyoko’s role as a product to be consumed is foreshadowed in the opening shot, in which her static image is multiplied and repeated ad nauseum, recalling the production of a mass-manufactured good for the consumption of the general public. Like Tampopo, Kyoko is a common girl, literally picked up off the street in order to become the face of the caramel company. Like Tampopo, Kyoko’s key to succeeding in a world dominated by mass production and consumption is through food.

bf92468634579fd948e9c5cd8edaabad

…I’ll help you out.”

As the narrative of Giants and Toys progresses, it becomes clear that, in acting as the face of Giant Caramel, Kyoko herself becomes an object that is commodified and sold like the caramels themselves. Masumura comments on it outright when he has one of the characters state that the general public will buy anything sold to them if they are repeatedly told to do so. The fact that Kyoko is initially said to be unattractive attests to this—she is successfully “manufactured” and “sold” just as the caramels she advertises are because the company mass produces her image and repeatedly sends the consumers messages that she is desirable. This reflects her position as an individual within a consumer society—as a person, she can be exploited and marketed to the general public by the corporations with money and influence. Yet despite her objectification both by the company and by the public, Kyoko herself finds empowerment in her commodification. It is through her connection with food that Kyoko becomes wealthy and influential in her own right—she is brought into the spotlight by the consumerist structure and the men who run it, but ultimately is able to exploit the system herself to live how she pleases, shown in the end by how she rejects Yosuke’s attempts to bring her back to the company. Thus like in Tampopo, Kyoko’s personal empowerment as an individual woman is brought about by her connection to food that is meant to be consumed by the public. Society’s acceptance of the caramels that she peddles in turn means its acceptance of herself, making the caramels the medium through which she is able to succeed within a materialistic world.

Both Tampopo and Giants and Toys can be read as success stories for the women that they center around—in both these films, the women come out in the end as victors, with their respective links to food being the vehicle which allows them to overcome institutional power that would otherwise oppose or exploit them. The story of Minamata, however, is different—due to being a documentary account of nonfictional events, there is no neat narrative conclusion to the way in which the plight of the residents is portrayed. What ties these stories together across their disparate genres, however, is how food becomes a medium through which human relationships of power are reflected. What Tsuchimoto’s documentary establishes is a real situation in which food becomes the symbol of human experience. In the fictional accounts of Tampopo and Kyoko, the treatment and consumption of food also come to represent the stories of the women themselves. As thus, the directors of all of these films use food to examine power in society and how it affects individuals who may not initially supported by institutions of power.

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.

Tampopo: Combination of Cultures

The Western influence of Japanese food is an important fact that is showcase throughout Itami Juzo’s Tampopo. I believe the most important scene in Tampopo is when Tampopo goes out to place her old ramen flag outside of her new restaurant because this scene really depicts the influence that Western culture has had on Japanese cuisine from the high class French restaurants shown in the beginning of the film to a humble ramen shop next to the road. However, the most important fact is that despite the Western influences, Japanese cuisine or in this case a simple bowl of ramen incorporates aspects of Western culture but is still authentic.

Tampopo putting up her old ramen flag outside her new restaurant.

Tampopo putting up her old ramen flag outside her new restaurant.

The most noticeable change to Tampopo’s restaurant is the design and structure of the shop both exterior and interior. From the exterior, the audience could tell that Tampopo’s restaurant is model after French cafes/restaurants with the fancy logo/writing of the restaurant’s name to the design of the roof. Also, unlike the middle of the Tampopo, where Goro writes Tampopo’s new restaurant’s name “タンポポ” (Tampopo) in Katakana, a component of Japanese writing system, it is now written in English in fancy gold letters. Yet, Tampopo putting up her old ramen flag shows that although she is adapting/incorporating Western idea’s into her restaurant, she is still true to the Japanese aspects of her restaurant. This same flag that is shown in the beginning of the film in Tampopo’s restaurant and her new one indicates that Tampopo’s ramen stays true to its Japanese culture instead of complete emulating Western cuisines. The exterior of Tampopo’s store symbolizes how modern Japanese culture is a combination of both Japanese and Western ideals how these things could coexist instead of one over powering the other. Tampopo’s store has the design of a French restaurant, yet the traditional old ramen flag symbolizes just how much modern Japanese cuisine/culture is a mixture of both Western modernism and traditional Japanese culture. That being one doesn’t mean you lose the other.

Tampopo staring to serve customers as they walk in.

Tampopo staring to serve customers as they walk in.

The interior of Tampopo’s store has been remodel to look similar to any other ramen shop instead with aspects of Western ideas here and there. For example, how bright the room is compare to Tampopo’s old restaurant, the cash register at the corner, the frames of paper on the wall, that is what I think food certifications which is usually found in stores now a days, the wooden counter tops, and even the Tampopo’s chief’s outfit are aspects of Western ideas in her store.  These items help make Tampopo’s store look like a sophisticated ramen shop where as her old traditional looking made it look like an everyday neighborhood shop. Though Tampopo has changed the appearance of her shop the layout of the shop is the same. The open counter to the chief to create a friendly atmosphere is still there so that the chief could welcome a new customer, which is an aspect of Japanese culture. This high class look, yet friendly atmosphere combines the Western and Japanese aspect of restaurant culture perfectly which of course leads to Tampopo’s success.

 

Connected by an Invisible Thread

            Itami Juzo’s Tampopo overlaps seemingly unrelated anecdotes that are undeniably connected by food, something universally relatable by all people, regardless of status or nationality. As a visual form of art, every scene that is shot exists for the director to deliver his message the way he wants it to be seen. Subliminally, the audience formulates opinions around the first and last images of the film on the basis of whether they were captivated from the very beginning and whether they were satisfied with their last two hours about how the plot finally unraveled and ultimately concluded. With that in mind, I chose to screenshot the very last image before the credits roll onto the screen.

Last scene: A mother sits in a park nursing her newborn.

Last scene: A mother sits in a park nursing her newborn.

            Even though the main plotline amongst the hodgepodge of stories is suggested to lie with Tampopo and the art of creating ramen, Juzo doesn’t simply end it with the success of her ramen shop that triggers her vagabond Sensei, Goro, to return to his own journey, his truck moving farther and farther away from the camera’s range of view. Instead, the film pans his camera over to the park where the woman is nursing her child. At first, it may not be comprehensible to a viewer as to why an additional scene seemingly unrelated to Tampopo’s life becomes the last visual they see before the end of the film. But we have to also remember that while Juzo does revolutionize the way films were made, not all characteristics of a typical film have been lost.

            Like how life is a cycle of birth and death, Tampopo parallels its cyclical manner, making Juzo’s messages about life only that much more powerful. Recall that the very first scene of the film was not of two truckers driving in the rain toward Tampopo’s shop. Rather, it was the profound movie theater scene that recreates the audience as another character in the film, breaking the barrier between the film and audience. Even though the beginning and ending were not substories that were apparently related, they still provide a sense of a cycle in weaving in and out of Tampopo’s life.

            Nevertheless, the substories not involving Tampopo as a character are still interestingly connected to her simply by her name “Tampopo”, literally translated into “Dandelion”. Similar to how a dandelion merely drifts in the wind until it can be planted, the film artistically drifts in and out of the lives of an assortment of characters representative of the different types of people in the world by carefully panning the camera to a new focus without disrupting any of the stories, just like the transition into this last scene as our figurative dandelion plants itself on a newborn being nursed by its mother’s milk. Like how the first scene teaches that every moment of life (symbolized by the movie) should be savored, the last scene presents food as an extension of oneself, both literally through the mother’s milk and figuratively through Tampopo’s determination to master her art to nurture the customers and life that she loves.

Food, Chance, and Desire

           Filmed during the bubble era, Tampopo is an exploration of food and the way it transcends all aspects of life and society. As the audience, we follow a stream-of-consciousness approach that flows and ebbs from the central story of Tampopo’s noodles to glimpses at the lives of others, including the well-dressed gangster who begins the movie by breaking the fourth wall. In one such vignette, the gangster buys an oyster from a diver, cutting his lip and experiencing unexpected intimacy in the process.

           The gangster symbolizes the Western culture that pervaded Japanese society during the 1900s. He eats sophisticated Western cuisine and wears a suit, the iconic Western outfit, rather than showing traditional yakuza fashion such as full-body tattoos. By being Japanese and conspicuously Western at the same time, he represents the Western influence on Japan, which was especially prominent in the 1980s due to the bubble economy, which introduced all manner of Western products into Japan. On the other hand, the pearl diver represents the roots of ancient Japanese culture. Diving for pearls and seafood, or ama, is a Japanese tradition that dates back two thousand years. Ama also dive without diving gear, a nod to the ways of old. Therefore in the two shot, we see a juxtaposition of the new and the old, as well as of the West and the East. Even more significantly, in the screenshot, the gangster is bending over the diver’s hand, as though kissing it as part of Western etiquette, when he is in fact eating from it. The stark difference between the perceived politeness and the actual intimacy of his action reflects the ability of food to reach all extremes of society.

Image

The gangster and the diver share a moment of perhaps yet-unrealized intimacy.

           Food is also shown to invert hierarchies, or perhaps to be completely ignorant of them, since in the scene it is the diver, and a woman at that, who is performing the sale and who initiates the kiss rather than the gangster. This impression is strengthened by the fact that even prior to the kiss, the gangster bends down to suck the oyster from the diver’s hand, again inverting their respective heights and perceived power. This scene, then, illustrates Itami Juzo’s belief that Japan was not necessarily inferior to its Westernization. The oyster is used to show the links between the two cultures and the return of even Western influence to Japanese tradition.

            Through this scene, Itami Juzo drives the return to tradition even farther back. When the gangster cuts his lip on the oyster, he presents the original and animalistic concept of food. The drop of blood on the oyster is similar to the blood spots sometimes found in chicken eggs, which in turn remind us that food can trace its beginnings to the bloody cycle of life, death, and carnal desire. This is also reflected in that the blood on his lip may also foreshadow the gangster’s imminent demise. Apparently drawn to his bleeding lip, the pearl diver first licks the cut, savoring it like food, before moving in to kiss the gangster fully. The gangster also eats directly from the hand of the diver, disregarding polite distance and setting the stage for a closer bond. Though the diver’s exclamation, “It tickles!” may seem platonic, the presence of blood paves the way for the carnal desire that follows. Additionally, the intimacy of licking each other’s wounds shows empathy, another form of human connection that grows, in this case, into sexual desire.

           The eroticism of the scene is slowly realized, but Itami Juzo lays out its foundations early on. The sexual connotation of oysters is evident, and the pearl diver herself is a Japanese feminine symbol, as ama are almost always women. Moreover, divers traditionally dive in only a loincloth, raising the sexual context of the situation despite how the diver in Tampopo is actually dressed. The eroticism stresses the intimate relationship between Westernized Japan and its old traditions, as well as the key role that food plays in intertwining the two.

           While the erotic power of food is previously illustrated by the “foodplay” between the gangster and his moll, the oyster scene is particularly distinctive for its sense of serendipity. That a simple oyster purchase between two strangers can escalate into a soulful kiss seizes the moment and delves, presenting a crescendo of a chance meeting transforming into a raw and sexual moment. The scene is used to demonstrate the pleasure of consuming food, as well as the brief but intimate relationships food establishes. Furthermore, food is also shown in this scene to overturn hierarchies by virtue of chance, thus facilitating instead a return to basic human desires and tradition.

Ramen: An Innocent Meal

Even if Tampopo wasn’t necessarily your ideal bowl of ramen, it would take a rather cynical individual to not admire Juzo Itame’s tasteful interpretation of an evolving Japanese cuisine. At its heart, Tampopo is a tale of struggle and triumph, driven by the innocence of Tampopo (a small-time ramen chef) who perfects her ramen cooking abilities. Through the magic of cinematography, food becomes subject to its context. Itame skillfully weaves through different images of Japanese cuisine, all of which carry distinct references to Japan’s culinary landscape.

Image

In one scene, an old lady squeezes a ripe peach until it seems to lose its value, much to the dismay of the store owner. The scene continues with a very satirical cat-and-mouse pursuit, until the owner finally catches the old lady red handed. In ways, this scene conveys the sense of innocence typically associated with traditional foods. Furthermore, it could also represent the struggle between so-called high and low culture foods in modern Japanese cuisine.

Itame uses a satirical approach to help portray the innocence of food as the old lady is being chased by the store owner. In a sense, the scene alludes to Tom and Jerry, Hannah-Barbara’s iconic Sunday morning family fixation. Such an allusion promotes the thought of childish innocence and warmth often found in traditional foods. Itame’s choice to use an old lady solidifies this idea. She seems to be looking for something specific in her food, but seems unable to find it. Could she be looking for the innocence food has lost as Tokyo ascended modern food’s globalized plane?

Itame comically adds to this through his editing. Much like a high-stakes action movie, the scene uses quick cuts in between frames. After all, the store owner is after the bad guy. Using images such as close-ups of the store owner with the old lady quickly moving through the background creates a sort of Bond-esque spy thriller. Disappointingly, the old lady stops when she receives a slap on the hand with a fly swatter. In my opinion, Itame’s chase is not limited to the store owner and the old lady, but the underlying chase of an older Japan and the innocence of the food it once held so dear. A struggle seen clearly in the contradicting nature of high and low culture foods. Nevertheless, Tampopo’s pursuit of ramen, which in its essence is the most basic of Japanese dishes, rekindles this sense of innocence. Ramen is Food that is mutually loved for its sincerity, rather than its adherence to a vision of a global food city.

This struggle between low and high culture foods is the essence of Itame’s film. Whether it is Tampopo herself, or through this very scene, Itame constantly reminds the audience that food is one of the most sincere forms of culture. Losing this could be as devastating to culture as losing a language. In a way, food is language. It speaks through its innocence, its love and even today as a rather dominant form of high culture. Tampopo is not just about how to make ramen, but if it was, I’m pretty sure I would make a pretty good bowl if I was asked…

Tampopo: Connections and Broken Boundaries

Image

Random man in the theater breaking boundaries by making noise by eat chips, causing a confrontation between him and Yakusho Koji’s character.

I felt that the most important scene in the movie is the beginning scene. This is when Yakusho Koji enters and introduces the tool of Tampopo—food. When he comes in he has a table set up with a basket of food. It is presented to the audience again when he asks them, “What are you eating?” We see this tool being put to use for the first time when he begins to talk about people eating chips and making noise in the theater. As soon as he states this, someone breaks the barrier by eating chips causing a brief confrontation to commence.

This scene is vital because it shows what to expect from the movie by setting the tone, genre, as well as by introducing food as the media through which messages will be conveyed. Throughout the movie we get the sense that food isn’t only a necessity, but a luxury that sets and breaks barriers as well as brings people together. It is important to note that though food is essential to the movie, Itami Jūzō uses it as a tool and not the focus. We see him and his girl brought together for a romantic dinner at the theater, showing the connection of people. Then we see the setting up of boundaries; no chips in the theater. The boundaries are broken as we see a random audience member eating chips thus breaking the aforementioned decree.

We see the connection with these ideas later in the movie as well. First we see people brought together with food, as we see the two men pull over for ramen. The ramen is continuously used to bring people together through the journey to teach Tampopo how to make the “perfect” ramen. We see food connecting the men on the street as well. This connects back to the beginning theater dinner and later to the date between main characters. The beginning scene gets us prepared for the mood and use of food making us more accepting and prepared for what is to come.

Another link we see between the first scene and the rest of the movie are barriers being broken by food. We see this in the meeting as the rookie who messes up several times but then he nonchalantly orders French food with an expertise that surpasses his superiors; surprising them and the audience. This is taboo since you aren’t supposed to show up your superiors. The rookie breaks the social barrier of what is expected of him as an underling. We also see this theme of breaking boundaries through food with the old lady in the grocery shop; going against the upper-class by damaging high-class foods.

These thematic ideas are reoccurring and the first scene gives the audience a bit of an idea as to what to look for and expect. Food is something everyone can relate to, so Itami Jūzō uses it to break the preconceptions people have and also uses it to show how it can bring people together. This scene also gives insight to the tools and messages that the Itami Jūzō wants his audience to come away understanding.

Relationships and Food

In Itami Juzo’s film Tampopo, social hierarchies are deconstructed and communities are built through the cooking and shared consumption of food. While the scene featuring the man and the oyster diver does not involve any of the main characters, or even any named characters, it is of central importance to the film because it most clearly demonstrates the idea of forging new and unorthodox social relationships through food.

The shot is framed such that the two characters share an equal amount of space onscreen and therefore are visually suggested to be equally significant. It is shot straight-on, thereby emphasizing the two people and their interaction as opposed to anything else that might be going on in the scene. The equalizing of these two players in the scene is notable if we take into account who they actually are. The man seems to be of a higher social class, judging by his attire and how he readily offers to buy one of the oysters. The woman, on the other hand, is a oyster diver, a laborer of a lower social class. However, the shot ignores these distinctions of social class, instead giving the same consideration to both the man and the woman with its equalizing camera angle and composition.

Examining the characters themselves, although their styles of dress clearly distinguish them as belonging to different social spheres, there is still a sense of similarity in the way Itami presents them. So while their styles of dress are obviously different, their color schemes coordinate. The choice of wardrobe brings them into visual unity, underlining how these two different people are brought into contact and how they connect in this scene despite their social backgrounds.

In roughly the center of the shot is the point of physical contact between the man and the woman. By placing this in the center, Itami emphasizes how these two people of different social classes come into contact through the act of eating an oyster. The two people are not only sharing food in this scene, they are sharing it in an incredibly intimate and visceral manner. Thus one of the prominent themes of Itami’s film comes through clearly in this shot. Through sharing and consuming food, people are brought together—more notably, people of disparate social classes and backgrounds are brought together, coming into literal, physical contact through the medium of food. The idea of food bridging social divides is made clear by the physical intimacy of the interaction in this shot.

Also notable is the woman’s reaction to the physical contact in this scene—it tickles, but instead of pulling away from the man, she maintains contact and reacts by laughing. This emphasizes the physicality of their interaction, but it also becomes an expression of happiness and joy at their shared experience and the bond that is created through it.

Although this particular shot may be an odd choice considering it has nothing to do with the eponymous Tampopo or any of the other main players in the narrative, this particular vignette brings the ideas of community- and relationship-building to the forefront, making it visually obvious through an intimate, tangible, physical interaction between two people of differing social classes.

What Eating Ramen Can Show You

ramenscreenshot

 

‘The old master is explaining to his student the importance of embracing the ramen and noticing every single detail that the bowl entails.”

This is the scene at the beginning of the movie in which an educated master of ramen explains to his student the proper way to eat ramen. He begins by stating that one must embrace the bowl and carefully observe it. This is where the scene becomes one of the most important scenes in the entire movie as it outlines the theme. By giving such a thorough examination of the ramen, they are respecting it and the process it took to make such a marvelous dish. This action shows how one must appreciate every type of food, not just the ones considered to be luxurious. This is followed up by having the master tell his student and ultimately the audience that one must move the pork to the right side and apologize to it by stating, “See you soon.” This example of affection gives meaning to the idea of appreciating food. Also, by giving such appreciation for a bowl of ramen incites the idea that no food should be above any other and that they should all be equal. Itami Juzo continues on with this idea in other scenes. For example, the scene in which the trainee is seen to be well educated in French cuisine while his bosses are made to look the fool by their lack of understanding hints at equality. This scene breaks the hierarchy by having the lackey, who was supposed to follow the orders of his superiors, decides to present himself in a much more prestigious manner and is made out to be the most educated. This idea is first introduced by the process of eating ramen and that is why it is the most important scene in the movie. Not only does it give off the idea that food every type of food should be appreciated and respected, it also gives off the idea that food is pleasure. This idea can be seen when the Master explains that one must savor the aroma and caress the pork. From this, it can be seen that the food is an example of pleasure. Again, this idea can be seen later on throughout the movie when the gangster, Koji Yakusho is seen to partake in sexual activities involving food with his lover. This key example shows the connection between pleasure, and in this case, sexual intimacy, and food by showing that food is capable of bringing pleasure to people. Another example that shows this relationship is when an old lady begins pressing the peach until it breaks and the juices ooze out. In this case, the peach can represent the female reproduction organ and it is seen the leek which can be representative of the pleasure. All of these key ideas are first seen in the scene in which the master teaches the process of eating ramen and that is why it is most important.  It plays a large role in setting the tone of the movie by not only giving off a comedic sense, but introducing important topics.

Tampopo as Modern Ubasuteyama

Image

Park, Modern Ubasuteyama

The scene where Tampopo meets the group of homeless represents the important theme of Tampopo; Nostalgia towards ‘Ninjyô (人情, humanity)’.

This scene starts by showing the low social status of homeless men by using a shot from Tampopo’s view, that represents the view of society, and locating the homeless men on the lower part of the screen. In addition, the dark lighting strengthen the feeling of homeless men as ‘Hikagemono (日陰者, Shade-People)’. The scene also shows the natural attitude of Japanese people toward these men by showing the facial expression of Tampopo who first hesitates getting to know them. The dimension of Tampopo as an average Japanese adult at that time also shows that Tampopo is not merely saint but a human.

Although the homeless men are written as socially lower rank, their emotional relationships are highly valued. For example, when Sensei parts from the homeless group to be a master of Tampopo, they sing the traditional Japanese graduation song. This song shows the strong bond between homless men, and possibly stimulates the audiences’ nostalgia by reminding them their schooldays. In the end of the scene, there is a transition using the swipe of the camera from the dark park to the bright tall hotel. On one hand, the contrast shows the social hierarchy of Yakuza and homeless. However, on the other hand the scene shows the reversal of ethical hierarchy between them by comparing the heartwarming homeless with the moral corruption of Yakuza in the following scene.

Furthermore, homeless have sophisticated knowledge on cuisine, which creates ambiguity on their low status. Although they might be ‘useless’ in the context of social life, as Goro rely on them, they have huge roles in local life. This usefulness of the ‘useless’ people recalls ‘Goinkyo ご隠居)’, or old man, in old Japanese literature. Since Goinkyo usually refer to retired old men, they would be regarded useless in the generation of mass production; nevertheless, they used to be respected because of their knowledge and experience. Itami utilizes the traditional image of the Goinkyo as old teacher to question the new value that disregards such people by judging them by their productivity.

In Conclusion, this scene seems to be Itami’s verison of the old fable, ‘Ubasuteyama’. Itami uses the encounter with the homless scene to emphasize his idea of nostalgia towards the old Japanese local community that entreasured humanity, respected the old, and allowed the somewhat outsiders to be included in the society, and criticize the society of mass consumption that destroyed the bond between people.