Unfortunately, I’m doing this review at the tail-end of Tampopo’s run at Cinematheque. I’ll be more on the ball in the future! But, you never know, it may pop up on Netflix, and you’ll be in for a treat if it does.
Tampopo, a self-proclaimed “Ramen Western”, had me laughing out loud and my mouth watering. The story
centres around a widowed woman who is mentored by a trucker to turn her ramen shop into the best. However, throughout the film there are tangental mini-stories that really make it stand out. Each mini-story relates to food in some way, from sexual food play to homeless people with gourmet tastes. The film’s surreal humour is ever-present, through awkward close ups and epic death scenes.
Tampopo was originally released in 1985, directed and written by Juzo Itami. Criterion Collection restored the film in 4K from the 35 mm film negative. I’m not usually a stickler for quality, but in this case it’s worth it just to see the ramen so crisply.
Itami isn’t afraid to push the absurdity using circle transitions and instantaneous wardrobe changes. Despite these tropes, the film did not feel cheesy. Perhaps this is because the mini-stories allow for comparisons that are insightful and hilarious. For example, a person slurping a bowl of ramen looks perfectly natural, but replace that ramen with a plate of spaghetti and you have a rude and comical eater.
At a time when Japan was becoming more westernized, Tampopo solidifies ramen’s place as more than just a low-cost, fast meal.
Any foodie, japanophile, or film buff will likely love Tampopo. If you see it please be sure to let me know what you thought in the comments!
Thanks for reading! Check out the trailer below to see what I’m talking about: