What is food but edible love? Director Juzo Itami surely thinks so, and his film, Tampopo, is a testament to such rhetoric. As close as we may get to a physical form of genuine omnibenevolence, food has sourced joy and passion from thousands. It is the work of Itami that wishes to channel such a feeling, a surge of electric that he hopes audiences around the work will share with him. For he is the great creator of wisdom, and within his wisdom is the prospect of good eating, quality assurance, and affordable goods. Here, he presents the art of noodle making, and the success it brings to a hapless restaurateur and two truck drivers lending her a hand.
As amazing and endearing the performances from this trio may be (keep your eyes peeled for Ken Watanabe, a man who seemingly never ages), the focus is on the food. It is shown as the universal language. A piece that every man, woman and child can come together over and bond with. Much is the same for Tampopo, an accessible piece of film that often has such clear charm to it. It is hard to ignore the fascinating composition of the scenes, which offer such gorgeous cinematography and style. Food is the main draw for much of the film, not it as an entity, but how characters and communities react to consumption and the ever-necessary effect of tapping into the tasty treats offered up by those bold enough to peddle their wares.
It is not the food that takes precedence though, with Itami’s direction intentionally riffing and ribbing the stereotypical shot compositions of American cultures from this period. It is marvellous to see, and Itami feels at ease with this mockery. A good director can poke fun, but a great one can do so without sacrificing the narrative complexities or the artistic value of his work. Itami then, has found the perfect balance. Earnest at times, even in its more on the nose and critical of moments, Tampopo shares its highs and spirited awareness with glee. They are detracting from the main cause, though, of criticising the western values held within conglomerate companies sapping the life out of emotional cookery, and it is hard to satiate the need for criticism when Itami is happy to get into bed with the tropes he wishes to mock.
Still, it happens often enough to leave its mark and make an impression, but not enough to consume the good and nutritious values found within. Tampopo is strong, fun and eventful. A film that bases itself on the passion one woman has to open a humble noodle store soon expands into a dissection of what makes cookery great. As it turns out, it is not solely the food that is responsible for the joy and art of this industry, but the people within, who wish to share their memories with paying patrons out of both respect and malice for anyone who walks over their threshold expecting to pay for a watery bowl of noodles.