Tampopo was first released in Japan in 1985, written and directed by the immensely talented and insightful Jûzô Itami (A Taxing Woman, The Last Dance). It is described as a “ramen western”, a delightful poke at the spaghetti westerns of old, except that this time there are actually noodles!
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this. That water isn’t boiling…”
Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki – Kagemusha, Departures) and Gun (Ken Watanabe – Inception, Batman Begins) are milk tanker drivers. On a rainy night, craving ramen, they pull over at the first ramen shop they find, Lai Lai.
They immediately realise it was a bad move, the noodles are rubbish and the shop is full of hostile locals, led by the highly unpleasant Pis-Ken (Rikiya Yasuoka – Black Rain, Double Cross). After a fight breaks out, Goro and Gun are looked after by the shop owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto – The Funeral, Minbo) who cleans them up and feeds them.
She admits that she doesn’t know anything about ramen making and Goro decides that he is going to help her on her quest to produce the perfect noodles. Together with a rag tag and unlikely band of followers, they begin to infiltrate local businesses in search of the perfect stock.
Tampopo really is hilarious from start to finish. It’s impossible to compare it to anything else as it’s completely unique. The main storyline is interspersed with side dishes of Japanese culture and the national obsession with food. These include the gourmet gangster (Kôji Yakusho – The Eel, 13 Assassins) and his lovely and very adventurous mistress (Fukumi Kuroda – Sweet Home) who find ever more interesting ways to use food for sensual pleasure and the teacher tasked with teaching a room full of well turned out Japanese girls how to eat spaghetti with a spoon and fork.
The overwhelming theme of the piece is the many ways in which food influences our lives and our desires and makes for utterly compelling viewing. Slurping has never been so much fun.
“Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glittering on the surface. Shinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. Spring onions floating. Concentrate on the three pork slices. They play the key role, but stay modestly hidden. First caress the surface with the chopstick tips.”
Tampopo is available to buy now on Blu-ray and DVD.