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Like seeds of a dandelion blowing in the wind, the plot of Tampopo wanders in several directions, following the lives of a quirky collection of characters. At the heart of this film is a young widow named Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), who is struggling to make ends meet by running a noodle restaurant. Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a truck driver, saves Tampopo's young son from being beaten by a group of school girls and is rewarded with a bowl of very bad ramen (noodles). Goro tells Tampopo the awful truth about her cooking and she asks for his help. Together they search for the perfect ramen recipe.
Intersecting this part of the plot are several smaller and less well-realized stories. Koji Yakusho, who stars in Shall We Dance, appears as a sensuous gangster who would rather play with his food than eat it. Then there's the mysterious Noodle Master who lives with a group of street vagabonds and a young executive who knows how to order food from a French menu, but not how to preserve the dignity of his superiors.
While the film as a whole feels somewhat disjointed, writer-director Juzo Itami manages to infuse Tampopo (which means "dandelion") with a sense of Japanese joie de vivre that is worth experiencing. Take notes during the "soup scenes" and see what you can cook up for yourself. --Luanne Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Japanese culture is filled with a love of food. Japanese travel brochures are filled, not with pretty sights and adventures, but with photos of local delicacies and dishes. Food questing is a popular hobby, with each person knowing a local favorite shop, or a master chef. Restaurants also tend to specialize, often serving only one dish such as ramen or udon noodles. "Tampopo" perfectly captured this national obsession, creating a story that is undeniable Japanese. Goro and Tampopo's search for the perfect broth, the most delicious way to cut meat and such is an honest and charming portrayal.
There is plenty going on in this film, with the sexual subplot of the gangster and his lover exchanging food and sex, or the young executive fluent in French cuisine. Each vignette forwards the tone. Along with this is the marriage of the samurai and the cowboy in the character of Goro, and the delicate strength of Tampopo herself.
You really can't go wrong with this film.
As others have noted, the plot is definitely patterned after Italian Spaghetti Westerns--a handsome but weathered character (Goro) comes into town and spots a widowed mother in distress (Tampopo). With the help of his eccentric friends (including a band of culinary hobos that sing in exquisite harmony a farewell song whenever their leader leaves them for a time), Goro helps Tampopo turn her fortunes around by becoming a noodle soup master! I could definitely see John Wayne playing the part of Goro every time he adjusted the brim of his cowboy hat or the bandana around his neck.
In addition to the main story line of the winsome noodle shop owner, several unconnected episodes are included. What ties them all together seems to be the theme of enjoying and appreciating and living for food, from the story of the noodle master imparting his wisdom on the perfect noodle soup to the disciple, to the old woman who sneakily wanders through an upscale grocery store just to TOUCH food, to the charismatic gangster whose dying words to his lover are about the wonders of an esoteric food delicacy, the intestines of freshly killed boars who have dined on yams that make a natural yam sausage.
Sounds odd, I know, but the director has a warm, affectionate viewpoint that lets us enjoy the eccentricities of the characters while still feeling good about them. There is not the faintest trace of meanness or cynicism in this movie. Laugh out loud scenes make this one of the funniest movies I've seen in years, and the honesty and poignancy of the wonderful characters will make this movie live in my memory for many years.
Tampopo also is an homage film to a few genres depending on the scene. For example, Goro (an obvious samurai reference) drives into town on a truck... with cow horns on the top! He wears the cowboy hat constantly and those themes are as thick as the noodles he's seeking out. There is also a tribute to Chaplin/Keaton and the silent comedies with one of the vagabonds in his efforts to make a rice omelette. There are a few mob movie shots as well, including the semi-narrator or guide of the man in the white suit. Beyond celebrating these genres, though, as well as film itself, this really is a story about food.
Tampopo is a widowed soup cook who can't really make soup. Ramen, one of the staple Japanese foods, is as varied and unique in stores throughout the town as there are chicken soup recipes in the US. She can't seem to make a good bowl, though, and Goro feeling bad for her, decides to stay on and help her out with the help of his sidekick Gun. Along the way, they pick up a colorful band of characters each with his own addition to the recipe and technique that helps Tampopo understand the importance of finding that perfect bowl of Ramen.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Excellence in food is the central theme, with a cast of delightful characters in orbit about it. Slice of life? Well, what a slice: funny, sardonic, stylistic, creative. Read morePublished on March 7 2014 by Planetar
This DVD is in my garbage. I bought it for a young person who is learning Japanese. There is some good stuff, humor, cooking, but the cruelty is such that I could not give it to... Read morePublished on May 22 2004 by Rose Evans
I watched this one with a group of friends last night... it's been about 15 years since my first viewing and 8 since the last one. Read morePublished on April 5 2004 by R Rheaume
After one rental viewing, I had to own this hysterical, absurd parody of Japanese food, culture, and the American Western. Read morePublished on April 1 2004 by Tim Stopper
The movie starts with a mafia character entering a movie theater, ordering a banquet and talking about how he hates interruptions (he threatens one of the audience with death if he... Read morePublished on Feb. 17 2004 by Samantha Rinne Hooker
Comedy doesn't always travel that well, and I think 'Tampopo' is one of those examples. I'm sure a lot of the content is meant to be parody and not taken at face value. Read morePublished on June 9 2003 by Andy Orrock
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