Monday, September 15, 2014

Movie – Tampopo (1985)

Tampopo is a Japanese film that is clearly rooted in the American Western film genre.  It is set in contemporary Japan, 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 itself.

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


  1. "Ramen Western" makes me laugh already

    1. If you haven't seen the film you should probably check it out. And see Steve's comment below. He has several great things to say about it.

  2. I rank this a lot higher than you do. This is one of my favorite movies ever, a top-10 movie for me. I love the little vignettes both for what they are and for the fact that they are frequently homages to other film styles. There's a lot of silent comedy in some of the little stories.

    I've also never watched this and not gotten hungry. All of the food looks so damn good.

    There's also a particular melding of worldviews here. It could be argued (and I'd argue it) that the five men who help Tampopo with her restaurant represent five countries of the world. Goro (cowboy hat = America), Pisken (Russian-sounding name), Gun (fashion lover = Italy), the chauffeur (noodle expert = Japan) and the professor (beret-wearing foodie = France), all converge to make Tampopo what she is meant to be.

    Dammit, now I want noodles.

    1. I knew you liked this a lot, but I didn't realize it was a truly special film for you. I'm glad you got so much out of it. Your theory about the five men could very well be what they were going for.

      Another movie that will make you hungry is Eat Drink Man Woman, if you've never seen it. (It's also the punch line to my favorite Carson skit where he would pretend to be able to answer questions in sealed envelopes. He held one up, answered "Eat Drink Man Woman", opened up the envelope, and the question was, "How did Arnold Schwarzenegger ask Maria Shriver out for their first date?")

    2. My favorite of Carson's Karnack envelopes went as follows--he holds the envelope up to his forehead and says, "Mount Baldy." Inside the envelope read "What did Mrs. Yul Brynner do on her wedding night?"

    3. I hadn't seen that one. That WAS funny. Thanks.