Tampopo

Student of ramen eating:

[voiceover] One fine day… I went out with an old man. He’s studied noodles for 40 years. He was showing me the right way to eat them.

Student of ramen eating:

Master… soup first or noodles first?

Old gentleman:

First, observe the whole bowl.

Student of ramen eating:

Yes, sir.

Old gentleman:

Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glittering on the surface. Shinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. Spring onions floating. Concentrate on the three pork slices. They play the key role, but stay modestly hidden. First caress the surface with the chopstick tips.

Student of ramen eating:

What for?

Old gentleman:

To express affection.

Student of ramen eating:

I see.

Old gentleman:

Then poke the pork.

Student of ramen eating:

Eat the pork first?

Old gentleman:

No. Just touch it. Caress it with the chopstick tips. Gently pick it up and dip it into the soup on the right of the bowl. What’s important here is to apologize to the pork by saying “see you soon.” Finally, start eating-the noodles first. Oh, at this time, while slurping the noodles, look at the pork.

Student of ramen eating:

Yes.

Old gentleman:

Eye it affectionately.

Student of ramen eating:

[voiceover] The old man bit some shinachiku root and chewed it awhile. Then he took some noodles. Still chewing noodles, he took some more shinachiku. Then he sipped some soup. Three times. He sat up, sighed, picked up one slice of pork-as if making a major decision in life-and lightly tapped it on the side of the bowl.

Student of ramen eating:

What for?

Old gentleman:

To drain it. That’s all.

—- Tampopo

Interesting scene from Tampopo

A few months ago I treated myself to a new membership to The Criterion Channel – a streaming channel filled with classic, foreign, and unusual films. I used to rent videos from The Criterion Collection – back in the ancient days when movies came on little plastic disks or on long ribbons of tape – and this is even better.

And in these old days and the even older days before that… we forget how hard it was to find anything odd, unique, or rare that you wanted to watch. For most of my life I would read about works of moving picture art that I ached to watch but didn’t have a chance to.

In college I would sneak into film classes when they were screening classic films. Then when I moved to Dallas in the early 1980’s I purposefully lived in back of a repertory film venue (The Granada – now an excellent music venue) which would show two different films every night – with a “bigger” feature showing over the weekends. The day at the end of each month where the poster with next month’s showings would appear was an important event to me. I’d hang up the poster and circle the films I wanted to attend.

Then along came VHS tapes and DVDs and Blu-Rays and I searched for the more avant-guard rental shops. I would drive across town on a quest for some obscure foreign film that I had read about.

There was a Japanese film from 1985 that I wanted to see and had a hell of a time finding. It was called Tampopo and was touted as a “Ramen Western.” Finally, someone copied a disk and sent it to me. It was a lousy copy but I absolutely loved the film. The main plot, such as it is, involves a John Wayne-like truck driver and a motley group assisting a women in revitalizing her Ramen shop and in the process, making the perfect bowl of noodle soup. It is odd, revolutionary, and very funny. It is also sexy and exciting and, best of all, a classic example of food porn. Literally, food porn.

And now, there is a 2016 4K restoration from The Criterion Collection that has now showed up on the streaming channel. I was able to carve out a few minutes and sit down and watch the thing.

It was even better than I remembered. I’m not sure how, but I had forgotten how unusual the structure of the film was. It will go off and follow the story of someone that walks by the main characters on the street (although that side story is usually wrapped back in later on). There is the story of the gangster in white and his girlfriend with their food-oriented sex life which involves live prawns and cognac and other things. They have a unique and amazing way to eat a raw egg yolk.

It’s not fair for me to recommend Tampopo – if you don’t have the Criterion Channel (there is a 14 day free trial) it’s still pretty hard to find. But if it happens to come by your way, don’t miss it.

2 responses to “Tampopo

  1. Some interesting thoughts on films and I would have loved that cinema. If I see a film late at night with sub titles I try to catch it. Your film finds sound much more interesting than the blockbusters and their endless sequels.

    • The Granada was so cool. For several years I would see about four films a week there. My son was home for Thanksgiving and binge watched all the Harry Potter films – which aren’t bad – but I wasn’t able to get him to watch Tampopo – maybe over Christmas.

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