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'Tampopo' Offers an Erotic Celebration of Things Culinary

June 20, 1991|JON MATSUMOTO

"First observe the whole bowl. Appreciate its gestalt, savor the aromas," explains a noodle connoisseur as Juzo Itami's camera zeroes in on a steaming bowl of delectable ramen.

You've heard of the spaghetti Western? Well, Itami's "Tampopo" may be the first noodle Western. This charming and funny 1987 Japanese film is like a parody of the samurai or American Western movie, except here the proverbial pot of gold has been replaced by a pot of noodles.

Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) is a young widow who has just inherited her husband's noodle shop. The problem is she's clue-less when it comes to the art of making top ramen. As a result, both business and spirits are fading fast. Your "noodles have got sincerity, but they lack guts," offers one patron.

With the help of Goro--a truck driver with a tough-but-tender disposition--and a few colorful characters, Tampopo sets out to perfect her ramen. She and her cohorts studiously observe successful noodle chefs for tips. They dig through their rivals' trash in hopes of unearthing recipe secrets. Goro even puts Tampopo through a militarylike regimen designed to increase her productivity and endurance in the kitchen.

In addition to the main scenario, Itami sneaks in a series of oddly clever vignettes involving food. In one hilarious scene a dying gangster and his girlfriend find solace in one of their favorite fantasies--sharing a meal of boar meat cooked over an open fire. For this kinky couple, sex doesn't come before or after meals but during them. Another brief scene finds an old woman raiding the local market in order to knead her favorite soft foods.

"Tampopo" is one of the most erotic culinary celebrations ever captured on film. Here the camera doesn't just present food, it caresses it. And when someone downs a bowl of noodles, it's done with passion and gusto. This, like "Babette's Feast," isn't recommended viewing for anyone on a diet.

"Tampopo" is a thoroughly ingratiating film. It's a bit old-fashioned (it's basically a feel-good movie), but it's also unique.

"Tampopo" (1987), directed by Juzo Itami. 114 minutes. Not rated.

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