Tampopo is a Japanese film that is clearly rooted in the American Western film genre. It is set in contemporary
but all of the basic story points are pure classic western. A mysterious stranger rides into town, helps
save a widow and her son, fights the bad guys, and rides off into the sunset. While it is interesting to see the genre
reinterpreted this way, the most fun comes from the comedic aspects of the film
Goro (Tsutomo Yamazaki) is a truck driver in modern day
Japan. He’s got a sidekick named Gun (an early in
his career Ken Watanabe). They ride into
town and stop at a noodle shop owned by the title character Tampopo (Nobuko
Miyamoto). Before they can even get
inside they see Tampopo’s son Tabo getting beaten up by some other kids. Goro rescues him.
Goro and Gun go inside and order noodles. While trying to eat a customer harasses Tampopo and Goro asks him to step outside. All the customer’s men go with him, though, and Goro loses the fight. He wakes up the next morning in Tampopo’s home. The conversation gets around to her noodles. Her shop is struggling and she doesn’t know why. Goro confesses that her noodles are not very good.
The movie now brings in an element of martial arts films: the master teaching the student. Tampopo begs Goro to teach her the secret of making good noodles. He tries many things, including showing her how her competitors all do something well, but not everything well. If she can get it all perfect then she will triumph.
Many people try to help her, each with their own secret for making the perfect noodles. Naturally the bad guy and his men are not done with Tampopo and Goro, but it may not turn out like you think it will. In addition, the film has several smaller stories going on, most with food playing an important part in them. One is how preparing food is the way a dying mother shows her love to her family. Another is how a young couple uses food to spice up their sex life.
The comedy in this film mostly works, although there are some scenes that I think were supposed to be funny where I didn’t laugh.
The filmmakers referred to Tampopo (the film) as a “ramen Western” – a pun on the “spaghetti westerns” that were made in
Italy. In Tampopo’s case, though, the film is
literally a western about ramen noodles.
This film became popular outside of
Japan. Reportedly, there are a number of ramen
restaurants around the world that use the name Tampopo. (At one point in the film Goro convinces
Tampopo she should put her own name on her noodle place.)
Tampopo is a fun movie. I think people that are familiar both with Westerns and Japanese films will get more out of this than those who don’t, but even those who have seen neither can still easily be entertained by it. If it sounds interesting then I recommend you give it a try.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars