“Ramen” means “noodles”

Tampopo/タンポポ (1985)
Writer/Director: Juzo Itami

ラーメン (ramen: noodles)

If you're me, you have survived on the magic of instant ramen noodles. If you are someone else, you may have at one point or another eaten ramen for several weeks because it was ridiculously cheap. You may have secretly loved it, since it was so basic and consistent. It might not have been gourmet food, but you really liked it for the first week- or at least a couple of days.

Unfortunately, a lot of stigma has been attached to ramen. It's the prototypical starving college student staple. Po' folks buy it by the case, and it never goes bad, which lowers it into a class with Twinkies and Spam.

The film Tampopo implies that in Japan, noodle shops are as ubiquitous as hamburgers in the United States. The noodles that they serve are called ramen, because ramen is simply a word for noodles. In Tampopo, fresh noodles are dropped into boiling water, then spooned into a bowl with soup stock, various vegetables and a little bit of meat. Imagine a deli for soup, where the cook assembles it in front of you, to order.

However, Tampopo is not really about noodles or even the noodle shop and the characters who find themselves connected (or not connected) to it. Tampopo is about the human relationship with food and its preparation. The movie has many storylines, which sometimes connect by a bare thread and sometimes happen completely independently.

Tampopo touches the whole range of human emotions. Laughter, anger, love, grief, lust, and - of course - hunger all wink at you from behind thin slices of pork and spring onions. If your mother passed away while cooking her final meal, would you eat it while it was still hot, or would you mourn her and let that meal go to waste? How gentle do you have to be to pass an unbroken egg yolk from your mouth to your lover's mouth - and how many times could you pass it back and forth with delicate kisses? Can you take pride in preparing simple food that makes people happy?

Okay, not every question asked by the movie is life-changing, but there is a lot of hidden depth, even in the broadly comic portions of the movie.

Noodles noodles? Delicious!

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