Monday, November 20, 2006


Food film of the week:

Why is food so fascinating? Why is The Food Network one of the most-watched channels on cable? Why are chefs like Rachel Ray and Bobby Flay rising in the ranks of celebrity superstars? It's because everybody relates to food. Everybody cooks - or at least, everybody eats. We each do it every day - hopefully more than once.

Like Big Night, Like Water for Chocolate, Eat Drink Man Woman, and The Scent of Green Papaya, TAMPOPO is a film that celebrates the perfect preparation of food. These movies, like TAMPOPO, are particularly appealing because they take a rather mundane activity, like cooking, and raise it to an epic level, on par with the quest for the Holy Grail. In the film, Tampopo, a young woman, inherits a run-down noodle house when her husband dies. She’s not very good at it, and the only customers are a handful of die-hard locals, a rich businessman and wannabe boyfriend, and his cronies. One day, a hero rides into town like Clint Eastwood on horseback. Goro is a trucker who sees himself as a cowboy. He speaks with a soft voice and carries the wisdom of ages on his face. He takes it upon himself to organize the quest for Tampopo to find the recipe for the perfect bowl of noodles. First, they must find the master ……..

The story is inter-cut with small subplots that carry the action from one locale to another. One subplot involves a gangster in a white suit who uses food and sex simultaneously, to please his lover. Another involves a woman whose compulsion is to squeeze every food in the market. The characters and the stories are funny and fascinating. There was a point, while we were watching the movie where we all said (or thought), “I must have one of these bowls of noodles.” ….. and went off checking the yellow pages for a late night Udon noodle shop that delivered – alas, to no avail.

This film also appears in Steven Jay Schneider’s book, “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, so you see, it’s not just one of my “strange little ‘Frank, where the hell do you find these crazy films I’ve never heard of’ movies”. This is widely considered an all-time classic.

There is a scene at the beginning of the film, where a master teaches his disciple how to properly eat a bowl of noodles. These are very helpful, but here at FranksFilms, we’ve come up our own tips for properly enjoying a perfect bowl of noodles.

  1. The pork sits right at the top. You will want to eat that first, but don’t. If you do, you’ll be like, “Damn, pork’s all gone. Nothin’ left but noodles and seaweed.” Eat it last. You’ll want something to look forward to.
  2. If you want to chuck the seaweed, I won’t be offended - but the chef might, so hide it in your napkin and stuff it in your pocket when he’s not looking.
  3. If the noodles are less than perfect, tell the chef to watch TAMPOPO. You can say, “It scored a 100% on the tomatometer you know.”
  4. If applying #3, be prepared to bolt if necessary. Noodle chefs can be a very sensitive bunch - and they have sharp knives.
  5. Order yours with a rice omelet. They make one in the film that pushed me over the top. We paused the movie and tried making one, but it didn’t come out quite right. Perhaps, “real” noodle chefs know a secret they’re not letting out.
  6. While you’re eating, DO NOT think about all the starch.
  7. All of the answers to life are reflected in a perfect bowl of noodles. Sooooooo ……. The answers to life involve ….. what, oil, and seaweed, and stuff? And here I thought it had something to do with destiny, and character, and purpose, and stuff.
  8. There is a scene in the film where a number of Japanese princesses are taking lessons on how to eat spaghetti silently, like European women – without making any slurping noises. This DOES NOT apply to you when eating your perfect bowl of noodles. Slurp away! Unless …… you are hiding because you are afraid someone will steal your perfect bowl of noodles before you can finish. In THAT case, please pay attention to the lesson in the film.
  9. Note on #8. I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve been to Europe. Women there slurp plenty loud.
  10. Even though it’s in Japanese, the themes here are universal: friendship, perfection, love (of noodles), eggs, broth, and pork.

TAMPOPO will make you laugh.
TAMPOPO will make you hungry.


At 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good film, saw it in about '86 at the local 'arthouse'. I show it to everyone I know- especially those who say they "hate Japanese movies"
... and always have the makings for Ramen handy when I do.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger FranksFilms said...

What's not to like?

Unfortunately, I've never been particularly adept at making Ramen. Alas.


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