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Tampopo (Dandelion) Movie- A Fabulous Japanese Food Film

Updated on November 22, 2010
Sometimes I find myself grieving the dearth of good films for foodies these days.  Sure, Julie and Julia got people to pick up their mothers’ old cookbooks and Like Water for Chocolate was a decent celebration of the culinary arts, but for the most part, food lovers are left high and dry in the cinema realm.

When this sad reality becomes too much to bear, I turn to Tampopo (known in English as Dandelion), a Japanese film written and directed by Juzo Itami and starring Ken Watanabe (who you probably know from Inception and The Last Samurai).

A Love Story about Food with Western Undertones

Tampopo is first and foremost an ode to food.  The scenes in this film, ranging from wholesome to raunchy, hilarious to heartbreaking, all revolve around food and the wonderful way we feel when we buy, prepare, and consume it.  Though the cast is stellar and the direction fabulous, food is the real star of this film, and Juzo Itami was very careful to keep it that way.

The premise of the film revolves around the journey of a single mother (Tampopo- played by Nobuko Miyamoto) as she struggles to revive her mediocre ramen shop.  Tampopo is aided by Goro (Tsutomu Yamakazi), a truck driver who ambles into town from the great world beyond and knows his way around a bowl of good soup.  As the movie progresses, Goro, with his sidekick Gen (Ken Watanabe), band together to turn Tampopo’s listless restaurant into a top-notch ramen church.  Tampopo has a fabulous Western feel to it, with Gun being the dark, handsome cowboy, and the film’s subplots are filled with laughs and delicious dishes.


Though Tampopo primarily features the uphill battle of the intrepid Tampopo, other side stories boost the film’s foodie quotient beyond the realm of measurement.  One subplot follows the cat-and-mouse game of a store clerk and an old woman who takes to sneaking around the shop and poking the dickens out of his produce.  Another side story follows the steamy love affair of a Japanese gangster and his gorgeous girlfriend which revolves around hilarious food fetishes.  Yet another side story introduces watchers (and Tampopo with her son) to a hidden sub-community of super-gourmet-hobos, who, at one point, make omurice (my personal favorite Japanese meal of all time- good god, kill me now... I can’t bear to live without it).  And one of my favorite subplots involves a real knee-slapper of an etiquette lesson in an Italian restaurant.

Dinner and a Movie

Should you be new to Tampopo, I recommend eating out at an excellent Japanese restaurant (or Italian, come to think of it- order spaghetti), then watching the film at home as you slowly digest the night’s winnings and contemplate the divinity thereof.  

Should you have already seen this excellent film, I then recommend preparing one or several of the dishes made in the film, then enjoying it as you watch!  Here are some ideas:
  • Ramen
  • Omurice
  • Spaghetti
  • French cuisine in general
  • Japanese cuisine in general

No matter how you watch Tampopo, I hope you enjoy it.  It’s a wonderful celebration of all things food related, and wonderfully portrays the Japanese culture’s love for food, which is unparallelled in its nuanced passion and artfulness.


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    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh yes! If you liked those films, I think you'd enjoy this too. It's a bit more slapstick (at times) than Julie and Julia and Like Water for Chocolate, but still has all the happy feelings and celebration of food that one could hope for in a good foodie flick.

    • Angelique Newman profile image

      Angelique Newman 6 years ago from Canada

      Great hub! My mother and I watched Julia and Julia, and Like Water for Chocolate--we'll definitely have to put this on our must-see list :) thanks for sharing; I voted it up!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Winsome- you MUST try omurice, and I do hope you watch the movie, too! Yes, they DO use real ketchup, though I've also had fancier versions where they use a different type of tomato-based sauce (in this case, it was omurice over rice with flaky tuna and a spinach-marinara kind of topping instead of ketchup).

      I'm a sucker for the food making in Waitress, Chocolat, and Mostly Martha. Those are all great movies! If you love those, you'll dig Tampopo too ;)

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      I will have to see this. I am intrigued by the omurice, I thought I knew most Japanese dishes--do they really use ketchup?

      I also like the pure pleasure of making a pie in Waitress, of making chocolate in Chocolat and the almost obsessive love of exquisite dishes in Mostly Martha. Mostly Martha, the german movie with english subtitles is light years better than the sad remake with Catherine Zeta Jones--although she is delectable enough by herself. The love affair with food that Martha and her (she thinks) competitor the Italian chef have is irresistible. Thanks for a great review. =:)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      No, I have NOT seen Babette's Feast- or even heard of it!! I shall have to check it out! Thanks for the reference XD

    • larryfreeman profile image

      larryfreeman 7 years ago from Fremont, CA

      Hi Simone,

      I saw Tampopo a while ago so I guess it's time to see it again. :-)

      My favorite foodie movie is Babette's Feast. Have you seen it?

      It is the story of a housekeeper to two old ladies in a small, Danish village. When she wins a lottery, she decides to spend all the money on a meal that she prepares for the old ladies and their friends.