Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Remembering Tampopo

The CBC used to show foreign films after midnight uncut on Friday nights, and as a curious 13 to 15 year old, the prospect of seeing the female form on film on broadcast television was just something I couldn't pass up. And because of that, I ended up seeing a lot of quality films during that period: My Life as a Dog, Manon des sources and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

But there has always been one movie that I keep coming back to after all this time, a little gem of a movie called Tampopo.

It was the late Juzo Itami's second movie, following his debut comedy Ososhiki (sometimes called The Funeral), and like many of the other movies throughout his career, Itami tackled an aspect of the peculiar social norms of Japan. In Tampopo's case, the broad subject matter was food. In the later years of his life, he would go on to raise the ire of the Yakuza with another one of his films in 1992 and he was rather unflinching when it came to rendering the obsessions, foibles and quirks of his native countrymen. And Tampopo is no different.

The main story concerns a small unsuccessful noodle restaurant run by the title character, a single mother with a preteen son, both of whom are suffering from some misfortune. A chance encounter with two truckers, who are like the heroes from a Western, changes that. They agree to help Tampopo turn her restaurant into a success by giving her lessons and enlisting the aid of people who are masters of the craft and through many humorous trials and tribulation, the story unfolds in the heartwarming ways you would expect. There are moments to cheer at, like when Tampopo's much bullied son finally turns the tables on those that victimized him and as a narrative, it has much to recommend it.

However, the real strength of the film rests in the vignettes that are interspersed throughout the movie, because while for the most part they don't connect to the main narrative (with one notable arc being an exception), they do reveal a wider panorama of the Japanese obsessions with food and manners. Some are surreal, some of sensual and some are just funny. To use an analogy, if the main story of Tampopo are the perfect noodles, then the other material is the best boiling hot broth and finest spices around, each of which complements the other exceedingly well. It is a movie you should check out if you have the opportunity.


grayflannelsuit.net said...

I watched this as part of a college film class. I'm sure I missed a whole bunch of stuff, but it was oddly entertaining.

Also, I can no longer sign fully sign comments without using a Google identity. Boo! Hiss!

DutchBitch said...

WTF! Who is Tampopo?

Another culturally inadequate moment in my life... Sigh...

MC said...

Chris: When I first made the leap to the Blogger Beta, I had a lot of problems like that too. I am sorry that this kind of thing is happening to many of my longtime readers and if there was any way I could remedy it short of moving to another blogging platform, I assure you I would.

Dutchy: Nah... this is one of those more obscure things, so don't sweat it. ;)

grayflannelsuit.net said...

Come to the dark side and join Wordpress!