Tampopo (1986)

“Tampopo,” Japanese Director Juzo Itami's second feature, is a wonderful follow-up to his impressive debut, “The Funeral,” in 1984. Replete with colorful characters, placed in comedic and even absurd situations, tale places food at its center-noodles to be exact-viewing eating as an erotic act and metaphor for life.

The movie begins in a movie theater in which we the viewers watch the audience in the film. A suave yakuza walks in with his girlfriend and entourage of goons. The gangsters and moll sit down in the front row, while the henchmen set up a table filled with delectable food. As the gangster eats, he suddenly notices us watching him, leans forward into the camera and asks, “What are you eating”

He then tells us that he hates noise in movie theaters, especially people who crinkle wrappers and eat loudly. Needles to say, the man behind him eats too noisily, and the gangster threatens to kill him if he continues. He then sits down to enjoy the show, urging us to do the same.

Now the story of “Tampopo” proper can begin. I say story but it's actually a series of rollicking vignettes, rather than a coherent narrative, concerning food. Saga tells about the efforts of a heroic truck driver named Goro and his sidekick to help a young widow named Tampopo find the perfect chef (and recipes) to save her dwindling noodle-shop business.

In other films about food, such as “Like Water for Chocolate” or Eat Drink Man Woman,” the subject is treated seriously as a drama, whereas “Tampopo” (I just love thee way the title sounds) displays a healthy dosage of humor in linking food and sex or food and romance through the unique sensibility of its maker, Itami.

The shaggy-dog tale is self-reflexive and playful, manifest in an exchange between a father and his children. “Keep on eating!” the father urges his brood. “It's the last meal your mom cooked.” He is not kidding: The mother has just committed suicide (out of ennui), lying dead on the floor.

The film's best lines are about noodles, described by turn as “sincere,” or “affectionate,” and in one particularly hilarious scene, a customer offers his informed opinion by saying that “the new noodles have more substance, but they still lack the necessary depth.”

Yet you need to know not only how to prepare noodles, but also how to savor them, and when an older man overindulges and stuffs himself with noodles, his stomach must be drained with a vacuum cleaner.

The yarn's various goofy elements offer some perceptive observations about the joy and fear of eating–above all passion for foodwithout neglecting other distinctly Japanese phenomena and cultural myths, such as tea-drinking, flower-arrangement, and even suicide.

Owing a debut to Luis Bunuel, “Tampopo” also satirizes filmmaking, containing allusions to “The Seven Samurai,” American Westerns (of Clint Eastwood and others), Japanese yakuza pictures, and Steven Spielberg's suburban tales.

Director Alert

With his first two films, Juzo Itami established himself at the forefront of irreverent Japanese directors, such as Yojiro Takita (“Comic Magazine”) and Yoshimitsu Morita (“Family Name,” in which Itami appears as an actor), who have recently satirized Japanese culture and mores. Itami followed up this feature with “A Taxing Woman” (1987) and its sequel, “A Taxing Woman's Return (1989), all of which were released theatrically in the U.S.


Gun (Ken Watanabe)
Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki)
Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto)
Man in White Suit (Koji Yakusho)
Pisken (Rikiya Yasuoka)
Shoei (Kinzo Sakura)
Tabo (Mampei Ikiuchi)


Produced by Yasushi Tamaoki
Directed and written by Juzo Itami
Cinematography: Masaki Tamutra
Editing: Akira Suzuki
Music: Kunihiko Murai
Art direction: Takeo Kimura