Tuesday, December 16, 2014

751. TAMPOPO (1986)

Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Juzo Itami
Written By: Juzo Itami
Main Cast: Nobuko Miyamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken Watanabe, Koji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka
Click here to view the trailer


So I got a little preoccupied, hanging with my wife, cat napping and such that I fell a little behind, but still two movies in one day is kind of a big deal nowadays and with plans to catch a third later this evening, I'm on fire. Anyway, I've been toying with the idea of tackling this one for a few weeks now, thinking for some reason I'd hate it, but quite the contrary.

The film begins with a gangster dressed in white taking his seat in a movie theater, alongside his mistress clad in the same color. The gangster expresses his love for movies and how he doesn't want to be interrupted, berating a fellow moviegoer for rattling a chip bag. After a few minutes his movie begins and so does ours: The central plot revolves around a widowed noodle shop owner, Tampopo (Miyamoto) and her young son, struggling to make ends meet. One rainy night a couple of truck drivers stop by for a bite and end up sticking around longer than they planned. One truck driver, Goro (Yamazaki), tells Tampopo what's wrong with her fledgling business and after some begging, he agrees to stick around and teach her how to run a successful noodle shop. He teaches her how to read her customers, how to remember their never ending orders, how to perfect the soup and cook the noodles, how to slice the pork and just what ingredients to add, not to mention redecorating. As the film goes on, this main plot is interlaced with little vignettes, featuring characters that have nothing to do with Tampopo, Goro and company, including a man with a toothache, an elderly woman who vandalizes a grocery store and a group of businessmen ordering lunch. Also, the couple from the beginning - the gangster and his mistress - are brought in and out throughout the film, playing sexual games with the help of various foods - including an intense scene featuring an egg yolk.


There was definitely a point during the course of this movie where I said to myself, "Boy, this is pretty silly". I mean an entire film based around the premise of a fledgling ramen shop? But I'll be damned if this didn't pull me in and didn't let go until the baby was sucking the boob at the end of the film. It was totally original, unlike anything I'd seen before and in a good way to boot. The noodle shop story may have been silly to base an entire movie around, but it was never dull and the story was constantly being progressed, along with the characters. In the meantime, we were treated to these sometimes weird, sometimes hilarious vignettes spliced throughout the picture, which serve to keep the viewers on their toes and always interested. You got the sense too that Itami was drawing a lot of inspiration from other films - calling his picture a "ramen western" and was just me or did Itami's gangster remind you of Godard's gangster in "Breathless"? Especially as he ran dying down the street. Speaking of that scene, who knew that you could kill of a character and have his last words be a recipe for yam sausages, all the while making the viewer feel the pain of the characters in one of the only funny/heartbreaking scenes I've witnessed.

Also ending the whole thing by showing a baby breastfeeding was pretty genius, considering the film revolved around the relationship between food and sex. We start out life looking to the breast as a source of nourishment and as we grow we look at it as a source of lust. Therefore, one of the basis' for our entire existence is the correlation between food and sex. I've never thought of it like that before, but it was the clear message that Itami was going for and it came across loud & clear. For the third time, I will say that the film isn't without a bit of silliness, which maybe keeps it from being that perfect '10', but it was a lot of fun and breath of fresh air in a sewer after the likes of "The Leopard" and "Lola Montes". Thumbs up and hopefully a more permanent step in the right direction as far as quality goes.

RATING: 7/10  I was going to go '6.5' right up until I started gushing about it and then I realized I liked it more than I was letting on. If I weren't wrapped up in THE BOOK I'd head over to my Netflix queue right now and add a few more Itami flicks.


December 16, 2014  7:33pm

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