Director: Juzo Itami
Production: Itami Productions, New Century Producers; colour, 35mm; running time: 114 minutes.
Producer: Juzo Itami, Yasushi Tamaoki, Seigo Hosogoe; screenplay: Juzo Itami; photography: Masaki Tamura; editor: Akira Suzuki; assistant directors: Kazuki Skiroyama, Kubota Nobuhiro, Suzuki Kenji; art director: Takeo Kimura; music : Kunihiko Murai; sound: Fumio Hashimoto; food design: Izumi Ishimori; cooking stylist: Seiko Ogawa.
Cast: Tsutomu Yamazaki (Goro); Nobuko Miyamoto (Tampopo); Koji Yakusho (Gangster); Ken Watanabe (Gun); Rikiya Yasuoka (Pisken); Kinzo Sakura (Shohei); Manpei Ikeuchi (Tabo); Yoshi Kato (Sensei).
Variety (New York), 3 September 1986.
Magny, J., "A la recherche de la nouille absolue," in Cahiers duCinema (Paris), December 1987.
Freiberg, F., Cinema Papers (Melbourne), March 1988.
Rayns, T., Monthly Film Bulletin (London), April 1988.
Stanbrook, A., "Ronin with a Roguish Grin," in Films and Filming (London), April 1988.
Niel, P., "De la substantifique molle des nouilles nippones," in Positif (Paris), May 1988.
O'Conner, Patricia T., in The New York Times, vol. 137, H30, 17 July 1988.
Lavigne, N., Sequences (Montreal), September 1988.
Seesslen, Georg, "Tampopo," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 6, no. 6, June 1989.
* * *
Japanese writer-director Juzo Itami combines slapstick with light-as-a-feather whimsy of the Bill Forsyth school in this decidedly unusual blend of genres.
The plot centers on the quest of a young widow named Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) to master the art of cooking the perfect noodle dish. She is guided, spiritually and otherwise, in her quest by a helpful truck driver (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a Clint Eastwood type who is strong, but not silent in his persistent tutelage.
In addition to Eastwood, Yamazaki's character is modeled on and a parody of the energetic samurai warriors in Akira Kurosawa's epics and every gunslinger who came to the rescue of the widow woman in every American western ever made.
He first meets Miyamoto when he stops at her restaurant for a bite and is turned off by the unsavoriness of her noodle recipe (due mostly to lack of proper boiling) and the rough, undiscriminating trade that frequents her restaurant. These goons beat him to a pulp in an offscreen rumble outside her place.
Taken with his strength and courage, she nurses his wounds and he stays on to improve her culinary skills and bring her more upscale business by putting her through a rigorous training program that parodies the classic Oriental quest for enlightenment through suffering.
Itami shifts back and forth between this framing story and a series of vignettes involving gangsters, a class in the proper etiquette of eating spaghetti, the techniques of professional noodle tasting and other odds and ends. The subject that links these disparate set pieces is food, and sometimes sex—occasionally both at once, as in an amusingly kinky scene where an amorous couple gets it on in a hotel room over an elegantly prepared evening meal, using the various courses as sex aids.
The film's opening scene set in a movie theatre before the lights go down where an irate member of the audience admonishes his fellow patrons for always crinkling their snack wrappers and chewing their potato chips and popcorn too loudly during the show is also quite funny. It's a situation with which anyone who has ever gone to a movie can easily identify.
As one might expect from a film about the fine art of food preparation, the screen is awash in mouthwatering images that rival the alluring color photos in an average issue of Bon Appetit. Tampopo is clearly not meant for viewers on diets, for it is guaranteed to make you hungry.
The humor is simultaneously zany and yet so slyly understated that you're not always sure whether Itami is trying to tickle your ribs or pull your leg. Most American critics felt him to be aiming at the former and Tampopo wound up on the annual Top Ten Film lists of 23 of them, including the reviewers of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Time magazine. Siskel and Ebert gave it a thumbs up, calling it "brilliant and wacky." But the New York Daily News reviewer said it best, calling the film a "one-of-a-kind, true original." For that it definitely is.