1985, Movies

Tampopo (1985, Jûzô Itami)

This wild movie is apparently the first ever “ramen Western,” a subgenre I had never heard of before. It’s hard to come up with words to describe this film.

The film mostly inhabits the form of a western, once it gets going. Two drifts (truck drivers) find themselves in a new, dusty, poor town (a failing ramen restaurant), they get into trouble with the local thugs but are befriended by the locals, and round up a gang of seemingly incompatible people on the fringes of society to take back the town (turn the ramen restaurant around).

But, before that starts, a gangster, who will appear a few more times in the film, tells us how to watch a movie and strongly emphasizes that, if we’re at the theatre, we better not be eating potato chips out of the bag.

The rough outline of the plot is only part of the story. Because the film also has elements of a film like Slacker (or rather Slacker was clearly inspired by films like this) where the camera just follows what’s going on in the restaurants and homes in the neighbourhood. These moments come seemingly at random, sometimes leading to a gag and sometimes not. (It’s possible some of the humour is cultural and over my head.) Also interspersed are scenes of what might be called “food porn” involving the gangster who warned us about eating chips in the theatre.

There are a number of shots throughout the film that reference western (as in not-Asian) film tropes and even outright shots from classic Hollywood films. (I feel like one shot is directly inspired by Shane for example)

The film is pretty anarchic but nowhere near as anarchic as the most anarchic French New Wave films that clearly inspired it. That’s partly due to its relatively strict adherence to a classic Western plot structure. It’s a weird balancing act that mostly works. It’s a love letter to food (particularly ramen), an attack on the pretension around food, and a revisionist western all at the same time.

I have honestly never seen anything like it. I suspect that I had seen this in my 20s, when I was at the absolute height of my appreciation of anarchic filmmaking, I would have gone overboard and given it full marks. But I will say that the Slacker-esque diversions don’t always work for me. (I’m sorry I can’t think of an older film to reference instead of Slacker.)




This movie runs its credits over a woman breastfeeding. In 1985. Good for them.

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