Ramen in itself is not exactly a sexy topic when you think about it but Juzo Itami somehow manages to create a film brimming with passion in his 1985 work Tampopo and in it created a unique ‘ramen western’. Released in the UK as part of The Criterion Collection, this remaster presents the film having been remastered in 4K, new English subtitle translation as well as a multitude of interesting extras looking at the making of the film as well as the legacy it has created, long after its creators untimely death.
The story itself is based around the titular Tampopo who runs a fledgling ramen shop that is overshadowed by all the others in the area and desperately wants it to stand out above the competition, making the best food around. She enlists the seeming expertise of a truck driver named Goro who stops by her restaurant one night and after learning of his knowledge and skill in the ‘ramen arts’, gains his help as she begins her journey to something special.
Right from the offset the film utterly oozes charm and the love for the food as well as the people who leap right off the screen and truly helps you feel invested in this tale. The simplicity of it all lets you connect, making everything accessible for those who are likely not aware of this part of the world or how serious they are about food.
Tampopo as a character could have been portrayed as a clichéd person who is just doing what she can to achieve her dream but there are small elements that truly build her into somebody that you almost immediately root for and want desperately to succeed. Goro is her equal too in this respect, pushing her all the time to be the best she can be but accepts who she is too so as never to try and create her into someone she is not. Performances throughout are heartfelt and genuine which adds to the believability plus it gives the audience even more incentive to engage in the story and invest in what is going to happen.
There are some small moments which to some may seem disjointed and out-of-place, little scenarios that are not obviously connected to the main plot but they are in fact more a portrayal of the world and their lifestyles as well as a highly enjoyable nod to the audience at the very start.
A key example of these stories is a couple that we see through various parts of the picture who seemingly just live in excess, eating fine food and making love. However this is not merely a shallow element added to give some extra sex appeal but in fact represents the passion and desire to make things as wonderful and exciting as they can be.
Tension is created throughout too but not in the traditional sense to scare the audience, but in moments where you would never usually expect there to be. A simple taste session towards the end is simply gripping and only consists of 5 men sat at a table eating food whilst our titular character awaits nervously. These moments of tension are well-built to and feel earned as the journey has clearly led until these points with little to nothing wasted in helping create the moments and their eventual pay-off.
Tampopo makes a mountain out of a molehill but that is not to be said as an insult, rather this takes such a simple idea and makes it much greater than that, building on its premise and giving life to something with real heart and enthusiasm. There is so much to love here and is a film that truly has to be (and rather ironically) savoured.