Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo” (1985) is probably the first fetish film about Japanese noodles. While it is debatable whether it is uproariously funny as a comedy, the film is surreal, quirky, freewheeling and risky as well as risqué.

Loose and dreamlike by turns, the narrative unfolds, and one is never quite sure how it will end. The fanciful and dreamy confusion recalls the works of Luis Bunuel.

A woman Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), who works in a noodle shop, is the focus of a fight over ramen involving Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Piskuten (Rikiya Yasuoka). The men form a group and consent to help Tampopo make the best ramen, as they are entranced by her enthusiasm and her beauty. Aside from the main plot there are numerous vignettes about food and the sexuality within gustatory pursuits, invariably focused on noodles. Many of these semi-comical segments focus on the slurping of soup which have varying degrees of comic impact.

There is one striking sexual scene involving nudity and shrimp which juxtaposes the female body with crustaceans, which echoes Salvador Dali. Another unusual scene features an older woman squeezing voluptuous fruits and cheeses with compulsive abandon.

There is one mystifying bit involving the ordering of the exact same item while one other character orders a totally different dish. But this is the only misfire.

The scenarios accumulate in such a way as to impress upon the mind that food and eating become the salivary adhesive that holds humanity together.

While the auditory slurping and eating of ramen becomes strange and irksome, a weird melancholy rhythm forms upon the eye and the sounds of eating become primal and ritualistic.

Many film genres are lampooned (and it depends on your view how effective it is) from the gangster film and the French New Wave to the Western.

Odd this film is indeed, yet it is safe to say that it elevated the ramen noodle to iconic pop culture status. The noodle, beautifully photographed, becomes a thread of the universe that holds all things in its infinite linear path.

Director Itami was a fine thoughtful filmmaker with a keen social consciousness. Tragically most think he was killed during an altercation with gangsters on a roof in 1997.
“Tampopo” in its free and somewhat zany weirdness is a perfect complement to other unusual films from the 80s including “Diva” (1981) and “Liquid Sky” (1982).

Write Ian at ianfree11@yahoo.com

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