Monday, March 16, 2015

Clean Your Plate

I would like every movie to begin with this scene:

That's the opening to 1985's Tampopo (タンポポ), a really fun, affectionate, post-modernist ode to film and to food.

"Tampopo" is a dandelion but it's also the name of the film's central character (Nobuko Miyamoto), a young mother struggling to maintain the ramen shop left to her by her deceased husband. One rainy night, two mysterious men drop in, one of them cool, quiet, and gallant, like Clint Eastwood in a Sergio Leone movie.

It's Ken Watanabe--this is actually the first Japanese movie I've seen with Watanabe whom I'm more accustomed to seeing as The Japanese Guy in American movies. He's usually not this much fun, either. He decides to take Tampopo under his wing like an impresario and assembles a team to turn her shop into the best in town.

He finds a soup base making master among a group of hobos who sing to him like children in an old Japanese school film, Watanabe takes Tampopo to an expensive restaurant where she saves the boss from choking and in gratitude he gives her one of his best employees to make noodles for her.

Throughout the film, unrelated vignettes are presented, each offering a perspective on the human relationship with food. There's a man who goes to the dentist to have an abscess removed so he can eat ice cream, there's the frustrated manager of a market trying to catch red handed an old woman who comes in and pushes her thumbs through all the bread, cheese, and fruit. There's also a recurring thread about the gangster in the opening (Koji Yakusho) who engages in bizarre food related fetishes with his girlfriend.

The film will make you hungry but it's as much a tribute to the parts that made good, classic films as it is to the parts that make good ramen. The gangster, the heroic drifter, the genius in comfortable poverty are all presented with the slightly over the top score appropriate to all of these familiar devices of melodrama. Although it's self-consciously artificial, there's nevertheless a real feeling of reverence for these things.

No comments:

Post a Comment