“So you’re at the movies too, huh? Whatcha eating?”
That quote comes from the first scene of the film, as a stern man in a white suit threatens to kill someone at the movie theatre for making too much noise with their snack wrapper. “And…” he says, “I also don’t like watch alarms going off.” Then he turns to you, amused, and asks it. “So you’re at the movies too, huh? Whatcha eating?” And thus, Tampopo shows its hand. A film that doesn’t play by the rules. A film that leans into play, not work. A film where the highest of stakes are given to the smallest of delights. A film not just about how we make our food, but how our food makes us.
A couple of culinary ronin arrive in town. They are masters of ramen, and the enjoyment of noodles seems to them like a religious experience. When they stumble upon Tampopo, a charming restauranteur with subpar ramen, they answer the call of duty to transform Tampopo’s ramen shop into a five-star experience. Interspersed through the film are subplots concerning food’s relationship to business, sex, and murder.
Tampopo bends the samurai genre until it folds in on itself, becoming something new. It’s been called a “food fantasia” and a “ramen Western”. I find it more samurai than western. It’s akin to Seven Samurai, where a range of master swordsmen must come together to defend a town under attack by bandits. Only in Tampopo, the swordsmen are culinary experts with a mastery of food service. It’s a fun, fast, and even heart-warming spin on the “samurai savior” narrative that swaps swords for chopsticks.
Movies are fun, but it’s rare to find a movie that feels like it’s having fun itself. Tampopo asks you to throw caution to the wind and live in each of its moments. Some of it is cultural, like the business restaurant scene in which a young man embarrasses himself and his coworkers for ordering different dishes at a restaurant, but most of it is universal. You’re encouraged to laugh along as Tampopo unpacks our strange, personal rituals surrounding food. We also get to admire the craft of ramen with the strongest food details I’ve ever seen in a film. If you’re going to watch the movie, be sure to have snacks handy.
Tampopo must be enjoyed like a special meal: chewed on slowly with every moment savored. It’s a delightful two hours that is as sweet and crunchy as it is cinematic, leaving a delightful, lingering taste.
Films Left to Watch: 820