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.
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:
- 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.