March 15, 2001

A Film That Uses Its Noodle

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When I walked into the theater to see Tampopo, all I knew was that the movie was in Japanese. I suspected that it would have something to do with food, as it is being presented as part of the Winter (Food) Film Feast. However, it is the emphasis that is placed on food throughout the entire movie that provided many opportunities for unique, intelligent humor.

Billed as “The first Japanese Noodle Western”, Tampopo is filled to the brim with Western motifs, from its hero’s Clint Eastwood looks and cowboy hat to the longhorns that grace the monster truck which takes the place of his trusty steed.

Tampopo actually turns out to be the widowed owner of a rather shoddy little noodle bar in which Goro, the cowboy hero, happens to stop. Upon learning that Goro is actually a bit of a noodle gourmet, she begs for his aid in turning her failing restaurant and cooking around. Goro reluctantly agrees and thus they begin their journey to discover noodle perfection. The audience gets to follow along on their adventure, witnessing a series of hilarious scenes along the way, including one in which a vacuum is used to clear a choking man’s throat.

The director, Juzo Itami, wastes no time introducing his viewer to his themes of food and sex as he dishes out heaping helpings of humor. A white-suited gangster is the first to greet the audience with discussions of how to enjoy food while his adventures continually interrupt the main plot. This man reappears throughout the movie along with his lover, providing an extremely funny sex scene in which the two pass a raw egg yolk back and forth, mouth to mouth.

These consistent interruptions to the main plot — Goro and Tampopo’s search for noodle greatness — do become slightly bothersome and seem to keep the movie from ever becoming fully engrossing. But these scenes add breadth and keep the food theme consistent throughout. The final and longest scene of the movie — a mother breast-feeding her child — seems to sum up the primal urge that drives the movie’s love affair with food.

This definitely has to be the greatest movie about noodles ever to reach the big-screen. One could also say that the advice of one noodle expert — “first concentrate on the whole bowl” — can be applied to more than simple noodle enjoyment.

I don’t think I have ever been as hungry after a movie as I was after Tampopo. Every scene is about food, so make sure you have a good Japanese place in mind for after the movie or you’ll end up trying to satisfy your urge with a package of Top Ramen, which, after being witness to a noodle’s perfection, is a little anticlimactic.

Archived article by Ashley Risner