Tampopo Revisited

Earlier this month, I posted a scene from Itami Juzo’s food-comedy Tampopo, showing the how-to of eating noodles. When you see this movie for the first time, you don’t realize it’s a postmodern noodle western, where the main plot is constantly overtaken by distracting, but amusing, sub-stories.

You might not be aware of it being inspired by kabuki theatre, where actors directly speak to the audience. And, you might also find it interesting to hear that  the two main stories represent different food-related utopias. The main story of widow Tampopo, who is taught how to cook the perfect noodles, illustrates a (Apollinian) quest for perfection. Her voyage is constantly interrupted by scenes of a gangster and his mistress, living a hedonistic life where food mostly serves as an aphrodisiac – hence expressing their (Dionysian) love for decadence.

Itami’s view of these different roles of food are also expressed through his opinion of a ‘gourmand‘ ‘gourmet’ (thanks for the rectification, Antonia Mazel) – which is pronounced almost the same in Japanese (click and listen to グルメ, if you don’t believe me). In Tampopo it is not the expected elitist food-snob (such as the gangster indulging on Western delicacies), but instead the child, who loves the perfect rice omelet, or the vagabonds, dumpster diving the bins of five-star hotels, who exhibit a genuine taste for good food.

These Tampoponian thoughts were shared by philosopher of culture Antonia Mazel, during a lecture series about the role of food in cinema at the University of Amsterdam’s cultural center. The program subsequently offered an all-in-one ticket for the movie at the Filmmuseum, preceded by a pricey noodle-experience in Vertigo. Being a student, I decided to do otherwise, and stop by Wok 2 Home in the Voetboogsteeg, often recommended by a friend of mine. The girl behind the counter expressed her amazement about the negligible role of food in Dutch culture and recommended Chinese restaurant New King to me, for my next noodle western. Thanks, Tampopo!

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