REVIEW: Tampopo (1985)

A woman is determined to become a successful ramen chef, and enlists the help of a stranger and his gang of merry men.


By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on

Tampopo

Original title: タンポポ
Year: 1985
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Comedy
Director: Itami Juzo

The passing stranger walks into the saloon, only to find a group of gangsters occupying the bar. He marches in, unaffected and unafraid, and orders a bowl of food to fill his belly for his long journey. Shortly, his eye starts twitching when the hoodlums relentlessly harass the barmaid. His heroic fists decide to teach them a lesson in justice.

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This is the typical setup for both Tampopo and popular Spaghetti Western films, but Tampopo is no mere genre film.

Meet Goro (Yamazaki Tsutomu), the man-with-no-name archetype (with a name) who wanders into the wrong place at the right time. He meets the barmaid-in-distress Tampopo (Miyamoto Nobuko), who wants to one day transform her struggling ramen shop into one of esteem. And it just so happens that our hero in a cowboy hat and his ragtag group of friends are connoisseurs of fine noodle dishes.

Fans of Spaghetti Westerns will rejoice to see the many references to their beloved genre. These include shady saloons, hoodlums, fisticuffs, and the stranger riding off into the horizon on the back of his mighty steed seat of his big truck, while his buddy adorably tries to chase after him on foot.

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But more than that, fans of the popular Instagram hashtag #foodporn will be in for the ride of their lives as the film literally combines “food” and “sex”.

No really; two people snowball egg yolk in a battle to see who can last longer. After all, we as humans love food as passionately and naturally as we do sex.

This film not only about ramen, the Chinese noodle dish that the rest of the world thinks is Japanese, but also about food. The story explores why we love food and why we should treasure each bite. The opening scene alone will make you start promising your chashu that you will see it again later, while gazing lovingly at your noodles as you scarf it down. And you won’t become hungry only for ramen, but also for dishes like omurice (omelet + rice), ice cream, spaghetti, raw oysters, and “dancing” shrimp.

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Savory bites of deliciousness are featured throughout the film, in off-tangent scenes with characters that have no impact on our Tampopo’s underdog story. Seemingly disconnected, the only obvious connection between our heroine and them are that the random guest characters are passersby in her scenes, and they get the spotlight baton-passed to them.

But of course, what the film is trying to say is that every day is full of people who have their own lives. And you know what else is life? Food. Delicious food.

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Tampopo is a film that holds its ground despite its age. Released in 1985, the film still makes audiences’ mouths water. The blending of Spaghetti Western tropes with this underdog chef story is second to none, and mixes together sub-genres and characters without making the story feel schizophrenic.

A word of advice before watching Tampopo: you will get hungry. Wether it be for food, sex, or both at the same time, you will get hungry.


Watch this film…

…if you think you know what food porn is. You haven’t seen anything yet.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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Follow Ray on Twitter and chat with a fellow cinema nut. He also tweets about tokusatsu, assorted geekery, and life and adventures in Japanland.