“Tampopo” Honors the Culinary Art

By Thomas William Price, Contributing Writer

There are few movies that celebrate food in the manner that the 1985 film “Tampopo” does. There is something so divinely blissful about every aspect of this film that permeates to the audience in a way that is as delicious as the noodles we see the characters eating. “Tampopo” explores the story of a woman and her pursuit to create a better recipe for ramen for her failing restaurant.

In this pursuit, a group of extraordinarily unique characters come to her aid, each providing their own different and unique talents to create the ultimate ramen. In many ways, it plays out like a whimsical send-off of a classic western, replacing guns and the American frontier with noodles and a vibrant Japan. What makes “Tampopo” such an enjoyable experience, even 30 years later, is the fact that each and every aspect of it exudes love. There is a palpable amount of joy so present in not only the film but in its actors, their craft and all aspects of its creation.

Each of the main actors (including young Ken Watanabe) brings to life a diverse and vibrant character, both ridiculous and grand but entirely organic. The chemistry between Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) is so naturally present and provides real affection that helps to add more depth to an already spectacular picture.

This bond is never better expressed than in the final moments of the film. Much like the western hero he is, Goro looks back with a tender expression of longing and sees the exuberance of Tampopo finally working in a restaurant full of people. Goro simply adjusts his hat, smirks and walks away forever.

There are small unrelated vignettes and minor stories interwoven between the main plot showing moments of life, each one vitally tied to not simply food, but to how food is central and entirely indispensable to who we are. In the only recurring minor story, the audience watches the sensuous and erotic love of food between a gangster and his girlfriend take place. In his final moments, after being shot in the streets, the gangster whispers to her a description of a type of sausage which perhaps perfectly sums up the love, culinary themes and overall quirkiness that this movie so exudes.

Beyond its storytelling, the cinematography of “Tampopo” show the noodles, the soup and every scrap of food for what they truly are: culinary art. It is clean and simple in its shot selection, because anything which could distract from the elegance of the sustenance itself would be a travesty. Each and every succulent moment of cooking within the film, and more importantly, the consumption of food, inspire nothing less than love.

“Tampopo” was re-released in theaters on Friday, Oct. 21 and can be seen at Film Forum.

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