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Tampopo : Reclaiming the Spaghetti Western for Japan

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    Ugetsu

    I was in my local dvd rental store yesterday to get Ugetsu Monogatari when I came across one of my all time favorite films – Tampopo. I’d seen it twice in cinemas, but for some odd reason it is very hard to get on dvd – I believe the directors wife (who also stars in the film) refused to allow its release (it is available on youtube). I don’t have the original box, but the version that turned up in my shop seems to be from an Australian company, but I don’t have any more information.

    Its a wonderful film, which despite its relative unavailability seems to have a lot of fans. Its described as a ramen western, but its mostly a wonderful satire on the japanese obsession with food, and a celebration of sensual desires. As everyone who’s ever written about it suggests, you’ll finish the film desperate for some good noodles (and maybe something else too). It also suggests all sorts of interesting things that can be done with eggs, shrimps and oysters. There are a number of hilarious sketches throughout the film which have nothing to do with the (very thin) story, my favorites include the Japanese businessmen at a French Restaurant, Japanese ladies learning how to eat Spaghetti, and the old lady with a fetish for squeezing food. There is also a brilliant opening scene, which really has to be seen in the cinema for the full effect (and really should be shown before every film).

    Plenty has been written about the film, but what struck me is that despite the fairly non-Kurosawa theme, there are lots of clear influences. There is a strong Seven Samurai thread running through the film as the hero builds up a crew of odd-balls to cook the perfect noodle soup. This scene in particular (first two minutes) seems to me to be directly taken from the final scenes of Stray Dog, especially where the two men, having fought to a standstill, stare at the sky (1:20). I’m not sure if the reference is deliberate, or the director simply used the shot for effect.

    I do wonder if he had in mind the notion that he was in some ways ‘reclaiming’ the Spaghetti Western back to its spiritual homeland in Japan.

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    Vili Maunula

    This is a film that I have been wanting to see for quite a while, but haven’t come across yet. It was also on my list of potential Film Club titles, but I had to drop it due to lack of availability. Although now that I checked it again, there seems to be a region 1 release. Meanwhile, the Australian DVD is probably the one by Umbrella Entertainment.

    I like that opening scene. Maybe I’ll now have to watch the entire film from YouTube.

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    Longstone

    I love this film too , it was the first Japanese film I saw that didn’t contain Samurai and probably in fact I had only seen Seven Samurai previously.

    Tampopo must have been shown on British T.V. at some point and a friend of mine recorded it . I have a real soft spot for this movie as it started my interest in Japanese cinema and Japanese culture in general . It was once available on VHS in the U.K. and I also have a Canadian region 1 DVD release in addition to the Australian region 2 disc. ( the Australian DVD can be purchased for a reasonable price from Movie Mail here in the U.K. )

    Info here

    I’ve tried in vain to purchase some of Juzo Itami’s other films which usually get great write ups but so far no luck . His wife was in a few of them so perhaps that is the issue .

    I would be interested to know if anyone else has seen his other films.

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    Ugetsu

    Thanks for the heads-up on MovieMail, Longstone, I’ve just ordered it!

    Longstone

    I’ve tried in vain to purchase some of Juzo Itami’s other films which usually get great write ups but so far no luck . His wife was in a few of them so perhaps that is the issue .

    I would be interested to know if anyone else has seen his other films.

    I’ve not seen any of his other films, but I’d love to. My understanding is that his wife has blocked the release of all his films where possible for her. I don’t know the reason, but some source seem to imply that its down to the very murky background to his death. I suspect there could be a very unpleasant story behind her reasons for this.

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    Vili Maunula

    On today’s flight back home, I had the chance to watch Tampopo and really enjoyed it. It is one of those extremely rare films that manages to be silly yet serious throughout. I also thought that it was extremely well made. Sometimes films like these lapse into the amateurish territory, but Tampopo is really well thought-out and nothing really seems superfluous, even if many of the scenes have nothing to do with the main story.

    So, thanks for the suggestion, Ugetsu and Longstone! This definitely goes to my list of films to recommend to anyone who cares to listen.

    As for the idea of it being a “noodle western”, I’m not so sure I see that in it. It rather felt a little like a Monty Python film to me.

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    Amnesty11

    I have only seen Tampopo once, when it first came out in 1985. I’ve always wanted to see it again – in fact there was a showing in San Diego two years ago with a huge Japanese Dinner following…a fundraiser for a museum I believe. I remember reading about it at my aunt’s house when visiting and being sorely disappointed that I missed it by a week. It’s been in my Netflx cue ever since but always unavailable. I didn’t know the mysterious backstory!

    I looked online and the only screening I can find of it on the big screen here in America in 2012 is at the University of Missouri on March 14th. About 2,000 miles away. Let me get out my google directions…

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    Amnesty11

    Longstone, it was also my first Japanese film!

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    Fred

    @Longstone&Ugetsu:

    Thanks for the Widkipedia link. I had been unaware of the stories surrounding Juzo Itami’s suicide and the attempts of his wife to restrict DVD sales.

    I am glad I bought the DVD a good number of years ago.

    To me, the film incorporates many elements, including those typical for a Western, a Samurai film, parody, and Monthy Python type surreal ballyhoo as pointed out by Vili Maunula. The movie is quite unique and cannot be classified easily: All those labels fit, but only together.

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    Longstone

    All this talk of Tampopo , so I had to watch it again , the Australian DVD is a pretty good print , much better than the Canadian disc I have and I really enjoyed it. There are a few strange typos in the subtitles . Clearly Itami was referencing westerns and other films but I wonder why ?

    This link offers a tiny bit of extra info

    Film four review

    I also hadn’t realised who was playing the man in the white suit before , or how many films he’s since clocked up

    Yakusho Koji

    It’s certainly got a lot to answer for in my world , it was the first Japanese film I bought on VHS years ago and started my collection which is now out of hand trying to own as many Japanese films on DVD with English sub titles as possible …… and now it’s started again with Blu-ray !!

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    cocoskyavitch

    I had forgotten Tampopo…you know, it held a special place in the American cinema for a moment when it was released-a “contemporary” Japanese film that was “approachable”. Did quite well, as I recall…I liked it, and after viewing the initial scene, think about Kurosawa having his protagonist address the audience in “One Wonderful Sunday“…I will have to view it again to see if it holds up.

    Other films releaed that year included “Ladyhawke” (I simultaneously had a crush on Rutger Hauer…and Matthew Broiderick!) St. Elmo’s Fire(! In the news recently vis-a-vis Demi Moore’s meltdown) the timeless “National Lampoon European Vacation” (I always quote “look kids, Big Ben, Parliament”…also “The Color Purple“…and Kurosawa’s “Ran“!!!!

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