For years I've meant to watch Tampopo. The 1986 Japanese movie Tampopo depicts the efforts of the titular noodle shop owner to develop from mediocre to master. She’s helped by Goro, the guy driving the truck in this clip, a sort of Clint Eastwood of starch, who rolls into town and can’t resist the thrall of a lonely widow or a serious noodle. Tampopo is also a collection of several semi-random food scenes: gastronome hoboes; one lone gourmet dining with his lickspittle business cronies; a disturbingly sexy scene involving a freshly shucked oyster, a young girl, a gangster, and a bloody lip. But the movie begins with this scene of the noodle master, and just as one is debating whether this is a joke or not—around the time the master is caressing the soup and making a date with the pork for a few loving minutes hence—the movie shows that yes, this is comedic.
And thank god for that. The moment the film cut to the men in the truck, I warmed to Tampopo. When I fell in love with ramen, I dove into the Internet’s dizzying wealth of theories on its proper care and consumption and the endless conflagrations over who does it best and who should rot in a grave of his own digging. I always feel inferior to and impatient with the people who have such soup-caressing passion, because I am that happy callow dude slurping next to the master. This is one of the things I took away from Tampopo: a winking acknowledgment about 20 years ahead of its time (in America, anyway) of the ridiculousness of foodies. And I say this being one of them. In Japan there is likely a whole other context to this scene, but here it struck me as the perfect balance between aspirational gastronomic mindfulness and over-romantic silliness. The rest of the movie does not so much strike a balance as veer exuberantly between the two. In all the years I kept meaning to see Tampopo, this first scene, minus the humor, was what I feared it would be. What it actually is, however, is a stew of appetite, silliness, occasional sexiness, sentimentality, and deep and abiding weirdness.