Friday, March 18, 2011

For Japan...

This is my entry in CinemaFanatic/JapanCinema's blogathon to benefit victims of the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan...I hope those of you visiting my reel life will donate generously by clicking here...

Woman in the Dunes
 I wish I were more knowledgeable about the cinema of Japan, but I am not. That's not to say that I am completely ignorant of Japanese films ...I have seen my share of Kurosawa, most recently, Red Beard (1965) and - amazingly - the first Japanese film I can ever recall seeing is Woman in the Dunes (1964). I was fortunate to have been young during an era when an art house/revival house culture thrived - and it was in a theater dedicated to such cinema that I saw Hiroshi Teshigahara's great film. On the surface it is about an entomologist who becomes trapped in a sand pit with a woman whose life is devoted to the daily shoveling of sand. But more than that it's a consuming existential meditation, beautifully photographed, filled with striking imagery and accompanied by a jarring, expressive soundtrack. I couldn't get it out of my mind then - and I really never have since.

The Japanese film I viewed most recently is a completely different kind of film...

Not long ago I posted a blog about food and film - films in which food "played a lead or supporting role." At the end of it I invited others to comment on their favorites of this "genre."  Among the films mentioned was one I hadn't seen, Juzo Itami’s comedy, Tampopo (1985). I was curious and eventually tracked it down…

Nobuko Miyamoto in Tampopo
 Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) is a truck driver on a long haul with his younger partner, Gun (Ken Watanabe). One night they stop at a roadside noodle shop run by a widow, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), struggling to keep her restaurant going while raising a young son. When she asks Goro how he likes her ramen he tells the truth: not very good! He then embarks on a mission to help Tampopo master the art of the noodle bowl…

A variety of colorful folk join in and weigh in on concocting the correct recipe and developing the proper method of preparing perfect ramen...broth, noodles, style, attitude...

Tampopo...sharing food
But Tampopo is not a start-to-finish narrative. Several vignettes are woven in - all are related to food but not all directly related to the ramen odyssey. Highlights among these side stories include the amusing predicament of a group of corporate types grappling with the menu in a French restaurant, several friends who get together with the intention of eating spaghetti in the western style and…most famous of all…a gangster and his girl sharing a raw but ultimately sensuous egg.

The mastery of ramen is achieved and the film ends on a high note. Goro, a wandering cowboy of sorts, seems almost to ride into the sunset once he accomplishes his purpose. A final scene puts an exclamation point on the link between food and connection/intimacy/love.


  1. Wonderful post Eve! I love Japanese Cinema, from the mighty Kurosawa to the ethereal Ozu. I have not seen Tampopo, but it seems very intriguing. Noble Work for a Great Cause!

  2. Interesting and informative article, Eve. I too am not that familiar with Japanese films, and it's great to read posts like yours that guide me in learning about some I would like to see. I love The Seven Samurai, but that's about the extent of my familiarity.

    I think it's great that you are helping with the needs of Japan -- kudos to you! Oh, and I like the new look of your blog!

  3. Eve,

    I have not seen this but it sounds delicious (sorry, I could not resist, LOL). Like yourself, I am not well versed in Japanese cinema, mostly Kurosawa (and I still have plenty to explore of his) and a few others. I do hope this blogathon has raised a few dollars to help, it is a dire situation that seems to continue to have little good news coming out everyday.

  4. great choice...TAMPOPO translates to "dandelion" in english and when you say the movie is about noodles, people become quite quizzical...I agree with the old arthouse days...that aint't goona ever happen again...HOLLYWOOD SUCKS!!

  5. "Tampopo" isn't necessarily a film I would've sought out on my own, but (except for one too-realistic food prep scene) I truly enjoyed it. The approach to the art of ramen made me think of the Japanese tea ceremony. & I love art in all things...from film to cuisine - and everything in between and beyond...

  6. I haven't seen Tampopo yet, but I wrote a review for 'Woman in the Dunes' a couple of months back. I like that movie a lot. I though it had a lot to say about workers conditions in the current age and slave labor. Great film.

  7. Eve, your posts are always insightful and entertaining! Another Asian film revolving around food is Stephen Chow's very wacky GOD OF COOKERY. Hey, I'm in the mood for lo mein now...

  8. Edgarchaput - I think the very best films have much to say on several levels and "Woman in the Dunes" is that kind of film...
    Cafe/Rick - I have probably seen more Chinese films than Japanese at this point (am a big fan of Wong Kar-wai) and liked Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle" - will look for "God of Cookery" for Japanese cinema, I need to get to know the work of Yasujiro Ozu...

  9. Tampopo is a funny film. When I first started watching it I thought I was going to hate it, but as the search for the best noodle recipe took shape I found myself thoroughly entertained. Great choice, Eve.