Foreign Film February: Tampopo (1985)

tampopo poster

When I was a teenager, or maybe in college my brother asked me if I had seen Tampopo. I’d said I’d heard of it, probably seen it while flipping channels, but hadn’t watched it. He said it was really weird, but kind of awesome. He admitted that the plot – about a little restaurant that made noodles, something really foreign sounding to us Oklahoma boys – sounded goofy on paper, but that it was really funny and cool. I made a mental note to watch it and then never did. Until this last week.

It is funny how those things go. Why do I remember my brother telling me about a silly noodle movie from decades ago? Why does it seem like I’d told similar stories several times lately? I seem to be watching a lot of movies that made an impression on me as a teenager lately. Don’t ask me why.

Tampopo is really weird and absolutely delightful. The main story is about a couple of truck drivers who stop off at a run-down noodle shop owned by a pretty divorcee, with a young son. They decide to help the poor lady out and enlist some friends – a noodle connoisseur, an interior decorator, etc – to make her noodle shop the best dang noodle shop in Japan. This part of the film is very sweet and silly and wonderful. One of the drivers is sweet on the woman and they innocently flirt. The men spend much of their time trying to help her learn to cook the very best bath of noodles ever and that gets really fun.

Interspersed through all this is a series of vignettes about food and love often intersect. There is a husband who demands a woman rise from her deathbed to cook him one last meal, a lowly office worker who shows up his superiors with his vast knowledge of French cuisine, and an etiquette class that teaches its Japanese students how to properly eat spaghetti. The longest, strangest, and funniest is one involving a couple who use food in a variety of sexual ways. The vignettes are interesting and very silly, but I mostly enjoyed the film for its main story.

But the whole thing adds up to a big dish of delightful.