6 May 2017



It's a bloody good thing that I'd eaten my dinner before watching this hilarious and endearing movie. And why? Well, because it's a film all about food and the kind of film that gives you the munchies so bad that, by the end of it, you're taking big bites out of the sofa cushions because it's made you so feckin' hungry.

That's the reason I always make sure I've eaten something before watching GOODFELLAS. All that thin slicing of onions and garlic so that they melt in the pan and into the food activates the salivary glands something rotten, I can tell you. 

Plus, if you're watching any Japanese film at all anyway, you're pretty much guaranteed that, at some point, someone will sit down to tuck into a giant bowl of noodles, and noodles are my one weakness. Well, actually, they're one of my many weaknesses but there's no need to go into all of those here. Unless ye particularly want to know? Email me privately so, heh-heh-heh. (I'm only joking...!)

TAMPOPO means 'dandelion' and it's the name of our female protagonist. It's a lovely name, isn't it? She's a young(ish) widow with a son to raise and she runs a ramen (or noodle soup) diner that doesn't exactly draw in the customers like nerds to a STAR WARS convention. Hey, I'm a nerd of sorts myself so I'm allowed to poke gentle fun at 'em, haha.

Anyway, Tampopo is helped to turn her ramen restaurant into a piping-hot property by a couple of truckers, Goro and Gun but mainly Goro, who stop by her shop one rainy night. 

Goro, the older trucker, has a real feel for ramen and a deep, almost spiritual connection with it, so before long Tampopo is practically begging him to take her under his wing and help her to turn her place into a ramen restaurant worthy of the name. Without much prompting at all, Goro agrees...

The film is billed as a 'ramen Western' because of the way that it utilises so many staples of the Western genre to create a comedy about the inter-action of food and sex in modern society and the importance of food in Japanese culture in particular.

You've got your two strangers, the 'culinary ronin,' riding into town, then agreeing to stay and help the fragile but determined 'widder woman' to build up her ailing business. Goro, as the one who falls in love with the enchantingly enthusiastic Tampopo, will therefore be the one who clashes with her old beau and childhood friend Pisuken, who's not at all sure how he feels about some fly-by-night muscling in on his woman and his territory. Naturally, fisticuffs of the rowdiest and most rambunctious nature will ensue...

And at the end of the day, will the helpful stranger who's revolutionised the lives of both Tampopo and her little boy stick around to finish what he's started, or will he simply ride off into the sunset like every other a**hole cowboy you've ever seen on the big screen? I can't of course tell you guys that, but the film is well worth watching so that ye can find out for yourselves.

The Japanese take their ramen extremely seriously. See the way that Goro enlists the help of various experts, rival ramen chefs (their help comes a little grudgingly, naturally!) and even a ramen sensei to help Tampopo in her quest for the perfect noodle soup recipe. Ramen is a huge big deal in Japan. The film makes that crystal-clear!

Pisuken, her childhood admirer, is a contractor so, once Tampopo's gotten the ramen end of things down to a fine art (which apparently it IS, in Japan!), he'll give the place a bit of an old revamp and a refit. Then all that's left is to wait for the customers to start rolling in. Will they...?

There are a number of food-related vignettes in the film which are interspersed with the main plot to great comic effect, although some of them are quite stomach-turning, to tell you the truth. I love the one where, at a fancy lunch for rich businessmen, the lowly underling is the only one who knows how to properly appreciate the food and drink on the menu, which by the way he navigates like a professional chef.

I was a bit squeamish after watching the vignette in which the elegant gangster in the white
suit passes egg yolks back-and-forth between himself and his lover... by mouth...! They also engage in some sexy food games in their hotel bedroom that might leave the viewers with a few raised eyebrows.

Speaking for myself, if I were presented with a delicious cake covered in strawberries and cream and all that good stuff, I'd be more inclined to keep it all to myself and devour it with a nice cup of tea than to dip my tits in it and offer them to a lover to lick clean. Jaysis...!

I prefer to eat my food, haha, but that's probably because I'm a typically repressed Irish woman who's been brought up to believe that grub is strictly for the kitchen and sex is something you do in bed once a month with the lights off.

The Japanese people in TAMPOPO have no such inhibitions or restrictions as they laugh and live and love against a background of culinary and sexual experimentation. From the old lady who loves to squeeze the food she sees in the supermarket to the homeless man who breaks into a restaurant to make rice omelettes for a friend, they're all at it.

It might possibly persuade some of ye to take a can of whipped cream into the bedroom the odd time, but leave off the egg yolks, for Chrissakes. I'm getting queasy again just thinking about it. A nice fried egg between two bits of bread is one thing, maybe with a dash of Worcester sauce for seasoning, but the raw yolks don't have quite the same appeal, it must be said.

TAMPOPO as a film was extremely well-received, and many ramen restaurants around the globe have taken the name for their own culinary emporiums. Or should that be emporia? Respected film critic Roger Ebert said of the film: 

"Like the French comedies of Jacques Tati, it's a bemused meditation on human nature in which one humorous situation flows into another offhandedly, as if life were a series of smiles." 

Aw, that's so unbelievably cute, and it certainly describes the movie perfectly accurately.

Anyway, the good news for fans of food movies in particular and of Japanese cinema in general is that TAMPOPO is out now on special release from THE CRITERION COLLECTION.

The even better news is that it comes complete with an extraordinary amount of special features. I myself really enjoyed the ninety-minute documentary THE MAKING OF TAMPOPO, which is narrated by the director himself, the rather handsome Juzo Itami. 

There's also a new interview with the actress Nobuko Miyamoto, who plays Tampopo, and interviews with and essays by various ramen scolars, food and culture writers, food stylists and American chefs, so whaddya think of that little lot, then? Impressed much...?

It's absolutely amazing, isn't it, how food is so much more than just a basic means of survival to so many people around the world? To me, now, it's always just been something to shove willy-nilly into your pie-hole to keep starvation at bay but now, after seeing TAMPOPO, I feel differently. Braver somehow, more open-minded and willing to experiment. Yikes...! Bring on the egg-yolks...


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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