A truck driver and his partner roll into town looking for a good bowl of ramen noodles. They select a little shop run by a woman who is obviously over her head in the noodle biz. In an act of kindness, the quiet stranger, Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki), agrees to mentor the harried woman called “Tampopo.”
Way back in 1985, sophomore director Juzo Itami created a very funny movie with intertwining themes of food and sex. The film begins with the suave Man in the White Suit and his gorgeous mistress (Fukumi Kuroda) attending “his movie” with an entourage laying out a feast. Then, the camera switches to the soft spoken driver and his assistant, Gun (Ken Watanabe in one of his early roles), as they decide to get a bite to eat.
They enter the Lai Lai ramen noodle shop owned by single mom, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), and immediately notice that she is not doing things the correct way. A drunken local insults the chef and Goro stands up for her, taking on the drunken Pisuken (Rikiya Yasuoka) and his four friends. This begins a friendship and mentor/student journey to find the perfect broth and noodle recipes and make Tampopo a success.
There is a very American Western element to the main story with Goro riding into town, here with a tractor trailer instead of a horse, and helping a damsel in distress. But, there is much more in the fabric of “Tampopo” that involves food and sex in a series of funny food-oriented vignettes. One ongoing thread has the Man in the White Suit and his mistress shacking at a hotel. They order room service and use various foods in erotic and amusing ways.
It is a treat to see a decades old comedy classis that I remember fondly. Even today, “Tampopo” remains as fresh and funny as it was back in 1985. It is one of the best foodie movies I have ever seen and it is up there with “Babette’s Feast (1987),” “Big Night (1992)” and “Like Water for Chocolate.” I give it an A.
One of the three greatest food movies of all time, 1985's "Tampopo" arrives back in theaters in a 4K restoration and it is cause for celebration. Jûzô Itami's endlessly inventive comedy follows a main story, two truck drivers who mentor single mom Tampopo in her desire to achieve ramen greatness, a subplot about two lovers who use food for erotic purposes (the egg yolk orgasm is a classic) and a bundle of offshoots telling smaller tales with delicious wit. Itami holds everything together with creative transitions while tripping through a myriad of movie genres. "Tampopo" offers the Western, film noir, romance, the buddy movie and many more within its cinematic feast. As Tampopo (the Japanese word for Dandelion), Nobuko Miyamoto's meek cook becomes a confident chef in an endearing performance.
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