Take "The Magnificent Seven", toss in a soupcon of "The Seven Samurai" and some of the structure of "The Phantom of Liberty" and you still come nowhere close to explaining the special joy of this Japanese movie.
Directors: Juzo Itami
Producers: Juzo Itami, Yasushi Tamaoki, Seigo Hosogoe
Writers: Juzo Itami
Tampopo (Dandelion) - Nobuko Miyamoto
Goro - Tsutomu Yamazaki
Take "The Magnificent Seven", toss in a soupcon of "The Seven Samurai" and some of the structure of "The Phantom of Liberty" and you still come nowhere close to explaining the special joy of this Japanese movie. Some 15 years ago, when this hit the cinema screen, a smart critic dubbed it the first Noodle Western and that description is still good enough.
Hard-boiled truckdriver Goro (Tausomu Yamazaki), who wears a cowboy hat and is a rugged Japanese Clint Eastwood, becomes entangled with the fortunes of a young widow Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) who is attempting to run a noodle shop except she has no idea of how to cook the perfect noodle.
The film is about her education. This comes at the hands of a rich man's chauffeur, a King of the Vagabonds, and other assorted influences who come her way courtesy of her new guru, Goro.
But the film is about a lot more than just truckdrivers and noodles. It is about food. All manner of food, consumed by all sorts of people. Director Juzo Itami keeps breaking away from the main story to treat us to digression after digression, linking food to the most basic of human conditions to status, to sex, to death and, during the final credits, to the newest of life.
The film is a remarkable fusion of cultures, Japanese and American, and with its sly allusions and never-too-broad parody, it is probably equally appealing to both audiences. It's clever, beguiling, very sexy in parts (well, sexy if you think food, nudity and sexual foreplay go together sounds ok to me), and while it plays on stereotypes of both cinema and culture (even resorting to D.W. Griffiths-style iris dissolves) it is always fresh and original.
The closing is a gem, right in the great American Western tradition of the cowboy hero riding off alone into the sunset except that this is Japan, and this is no cowboy, just a truck-driver. But then, it's not who you are that counts, it's who you think you are.
This Region One Fox Lorber transfer is evidently from an original Japanese print. Japanese language (Dolby 2.1) is the only option, with English subtitles, which is how it should be viewed anyway. The print quality is excellent, and the transfer has been handled exceptionally well, free of any artifacts or pixillation. Which is more than can be said for many Fox Lorber transfers! The film';s ratio is semi-widescreen on a 68cm 4.3 ratio set there is only a bit more than an inch of black-bar top and bottom, so there would have been no point in an anamorphic transfer. It's close enough to full-screen to satisfy those quaint people who still prefer pan-and-scan, while satisfying us purists.
(a quick technical note --- although my dual PAL/NTSC Loewe television set is a standard 4.3 ratio model, it does switch, at the press of the remote control button, to true anamorphic mode, with all the detail and picture crispness anamorphic transfers make possible. It's the best of both worlds!)
The only problem with the Japanese print is that the end credits are all in Japanese, and they roll through without translation. And the music throughout the film is so fine that I was waiting to check the details out, but my foreign language skills don't stretch to Japanese hieroglyphics.
All in all, this is a rich and satisfying film although after an hour or so you feel like watching it again. But isn't that always the way after indulging in Japanese?