Director: Juzo Itami
Original Release: 1987
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Truckers Goro and Gun stop at a ramen shop that's clearly struggling. Tampopo, the widow proprietor, is not much of a cook, a local gang of toughs are harassing her and her son is being bullied. Goro takes her under wing, sorting out the baddies and helping her learn the trade. Parallels with Shane are obvious but the film goes so far beyond that. It is a beautiful ode to the Japanese love affair with food.
Interspersed throughout the noodle shop story are other foodie vignettes: a young man upstages his superiors by expertly ordering a meal at a French restaurant, a woman rises from her death bed to cook one last meal for her family, a customer torments a grocery store clerk by over-handling the food and so on. In my favorite vignette, a women's etiquette class is derailed by a foreigner who slurps his noodles against all intercultural expectations. There is also a wacky subplot with a gangster in a white suit and his girlfriend. He's the only character in the film who speaks to the camera. Their story gets a bit risque with a food fetish scene. By mutual consent, we covered the Purple Penguin's eyes for that one.
In my favorite part of the ramen story (I've got a lot of favorites in this movie), Goro brings Tampopo to meet the "old master," who lives among a group of gourmet vagrants in a city park. As the master leaves to help with the shop, his friends - disciples, really - sing a farewell song in tribute to him. A hobo men's chorus - it's really very sweet.
Seriously, watch this movie. You'll thank me later.
My Rating System:
5 = The best of the best. These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films. They're fine. Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it. It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film. An insult to the art form.