Jûzô Itami really struck a chord in this wildly original, deliciously funny film that combines story & essay elements on Japanese food & food culture. (Japanese culture at large, too.) The driving narrative, what Itami called his ‘Ramen Western,’ has a classic Strangers-Come-To-Town opening as a pair of commercial truckers (Tsutomu Yamazaki & Ken Watanabe) make a pit-stop at a hole-in-the-wall noodle joint run by Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). Untrained, but not untalented, she gets the help she needs when the boys put together a motley team of rivals to perfect her broth, noodle technique, add-ons (roast pork, scallions, sesame oil), even the shop interior. (And naturally ride off when the job is done.) Interspersed (perhaps a bit too generously) with a series of foodie vignettes ranging from the obsessed to the obscene; the sketches are sacred & profane, gross, sexy & painful, and all hilarious. One scene at a fancy French-style restaurant is a particular gem slicing & dicing Japanese corporate culture while another will have you reconsidering the possibilities of oral ‘yolk’ play. The film is a triumph in showing the universality of the specific; and was rightly adored around the world.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Not only Japanese cooking gets treated with fond respect & accuracy. Check out the perfect omelet technique shown by a food obsessed hobo.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Hard to figure out just how Itami wants us to respond to his highly enlightened, but rather eccentric use of Western classical music. Wagner, Mahler & Liszt; is he cluelessly clever, poking pretensions or kidding on the square?