director Juzo Itami
Despite a few decent-looking new movies out there, I took my kids to see Juzo Itami’s terrific comedy Tampopo which is out in a re-release at the moment. I’d originally seen it in the early 1990’s along with Itami’s A Taxing Woman (1987) and A Taxing Woman’s Return (1988), introduced to them by my girlfriend of the time, a third generation Japanese-American.
I also quite remember Itami’s death in 1997, falling from the top of his office building in a suicide that even back then was suspected as a yakuza killing rather than suicide. Tampopo doesn’t really rattle the cages of the yakuza, though other films of his had.
I think it’s fair to say that Tampopo is a classic, a playful paean to food and sex and cinema. The main story concerns a ramen restaurant run by a lady named Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) who doesn’t do a very good job of it. In walks Gorō (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a truck driver with a particular passion for ramen, who, with the help of a group of other aficionados teaches her to turn her place into a top-notch shop. Intermittently, throughout a number of comical vignettes play out on topics of food and sensual pleasures.
Itami’s playfulness is very much on the form of cinema and genres as well, breaking the “fourth wall” in the opening scene and breaking the narrative throughout with other cinematic allusions, all in fun.
My kids both liked it, but were still so into Dead Man (1995), which we had watched the night before, that they were a little subdued on it.