Directed by Juzo Itami
The mass of New Yorkers who, some years ago, could tell you where to grab the best hot dog in town, have, by 2016, largely been replaced by a younger set who could probably point you in the direction of their favorite ramen spot. For this development, it’s likely we have David Chang and his Momofuku empire to thank. But before Chang & co. there was Tampopo, a veritable beacon around which foodies and Japanophiles (or shinnichi) could gather and gush about Japanese food and this eminently weird movie that takes this country’s food deathly serious while also being completely, hilariously deranged.
In a sense, it almost feels as though Tampopo belongs moreso to food culture and culture in general than to film history. But to consign Tampopo to a niche or pop-cultural category might risk failing to account for how special it is as a film.
The plot is conventional enough: Goro, a self-styled “ramen cowboy,” rolls into town to school a novice chef in the meticulous art of crafting the perfect bowl of noodles. Just as the bulk of a steak’s flavor is to be found in the thin marbling of fat the streaks through it, so it is with Tampopo: its best is to be found in the details—in its lovably, at-times erratic hand-held camerawork, its irreverent pastiches of American film genres (Western, gangster), and its hectic non-sequiturs. The film is peppered with mannered instructional scenes and shot through with the eccentric kinds of formal whimsy and weirdness that turned Nobujiko Obayashi’s Hausu into so successful a belated hit—like, for instance, an explicit love scene involving live shrimp, whipped cream, and lemons set to a Gustav Mahler symphony. Michael Blum (October 21-November 3 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)