Tampopo: Ramen, Westerns and The Perfect Bite

Alright, so this week I’ll be taking a short break from my regularly scheduled blogs focused on hardcore and local music, but I’ve prepared a nice treat as a substitute. I will be writing about “Tampopo” by Juzo Itami. 

This movie was introduced to me by a good friend, and has quickly become a comforting favorite to rewatch every now and again. The biggest draws towards this movie are its comedy, food presentation, and wacky characters. “Tampopo” is all about a novice ramen maker trying to become a full-fledged ramen master by the end of the movie. 

I’ll dive a little deeper into the plot, but not too much so that it ruins the movie. Honestly, I think even if this film were to be spoiled it’d be terrific to watch anyway because of how the actors deliver their jokes, lines, and emotion on screen. I could never capture the beauty on the screen and translate it into words here. 

Serving 1 – Plot

The movie opens in a movie theater with a dapper man and woman talking through the fourth wall to us about how to enjoy a movie with food (no chips!). These two characters are fun additions to the main plot of Goro (played by Tsutomu Yamazaki), Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) trying to fix up Tampopo’s ramen shop. 

Tampopo is a vibrant woman running a ramen shop with lots of beautiful smiles, earnest attempts at improvement and so much love towards everyone and everything. She is one of my favorite characters in the movie as she is so cheerful and wonderful throughout the film. 

This film has many characteristics of a classical Western in that it has a strong vagabond protagonist trying to better the people around them, Goro wears a cowboy hat, and loves to fight to make a point. “Tampopo” also is a comedy. It satirizes the tropes of Westerns and makes fun of many cultural customs like eating quietly.

By the end of the film we are in love with the whole cast of characters and rolling around laughing because of the ridiculous behaviors, scenes and gags that we get to witness on Tampopo’s journey to becoming a ramen master.

Serving 2 – Music

“Tampopo” blends jazzy instrumental scenes with classical scores to elicit emotions like awe, love, joy and comedic shock. The composer and sound workers for this film created a life-like city while adding in sound effects to enhance the noodle-slurping madness that makes this move so appealing. 

There’s also a great scene with a group of unhoused people from the city singing a beautiful song in appreciation for their one true ramen master who taught them to appreciate food. 

Plate 3 – A Sip of Sake before We Go

“Tampopo”, a lot like “Monty Python” and other satirical movies, has many gag scenes that aren’t focused on the characters of the movie, but do have to do with the general theme of the film. Many such scenes include an old woman fondling soft items in a grocery store, a Charlie Chaplin-esque scene focused on sneaking into a kitchen to make a beautiful egg and rice dish, a sick mother dying and her family eating her meal she made as a sign of respect and a few other naughty scenes played out by the couple from the beginning of the film. 

I don’t know what y’all look for in films but if you want comedy, food, music, emotion and anything else, “Tampopo” is the place to go. It’s easy to watch on HBO (or other places if you’re not willing to pay for a subscription…). There are many unmentioned treats in this film because there’s so much to explore and love.