Word of advice: don't take your first trip to Japan and then come home and watch Tampopo. You might flip out.
I made it about 30 minutes into the film before I had to stop and try my hand at making some ramen, awkwardly I admit, though it served its purpose. I am not, it should be noted, generally one who likes to pause a movie in midflight for anything short of a literal emergency, but Tampopo is so dizzyingly in love with the Japanese noodle soup - and, by glorious extension, sex, mortality, and the sensual ecstasies of being alive - that discipline went out the window.
This is appropriate: as a film, Tampopo is unapologetically unchained from discipline itself, preferring to wallow in its own bliss. It detours frequently, following strangers away from its scenes and into tangential sequences which both have nothing to do with, and everything to do with, the film's point and purpose. A room full of businessmen timidly order a fancy French dinner, with only the youngest salaryman willing to break form and explore his gourmand tongue. A finishing school for young ladies is interrupted in the midst of a lesson on how to silently eat spaghetti by the four-channel slurping of a nearby diner.
And yes, a gangster and his moll have tons of sinful, food-based sex - including a jaw-dropping sequence where they gently pass an egg yolk back and forth between their mouths before it splits, smearing bright yellow come all over her chin.
And none of these are even the plot.
The plot, such as it is, involves a rag-tag group of foodies (the Magnificent Seven of Japanese noodleries) helping a widow restauranteur become a better ramen-maker. This allows the movie to a) be a nearly two-hour training montage, but for food instead of boxing, and b) offer innumerable asides about the soulful purpose of silky, fat-bejewelled broth; perfect cuts of juicy pork; and plump, slippery noodles.
No seriously, Tampopo will make you want to eat your own arm off if you don't come in with a clear plan for dinner.
Itami Juzo's camera is playful and his tone throughout can only be described as "brash." The movie is tons of fun to watch, as inveterate in form as it is serene in spirit. Strikingly presented in 4K on Criterion's new release (spine #868), the 1985 film leaps off the screen with clarity and depth - not unlike, I shamefully allow, the broth it so lovingly enshrines.
In lieu of a director's commentary, the disc includes The Making of Tampopo, a whopping feature-length television special from 1986, narrated by Itami. Presenting the making of the film in roughly (film-)chronological order, it's an absorbing look behind the curtain. We also get video interviews with Miyamoto Nobuko, who plays Tampopo in the film (and was married to the director), along with food stylist Ogawa Seiko, who has some entertaining comments about the storytelling aspects of food preparation in a film where food is so centrally important.
A video essay by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou is included, which contemplates the deeper meanings of the term "amateur" - as it applies in Tampopo, and to filmgoers like us. Food and culture writer Willy Blackmore's essay in the disc jacket, meanwhile, is a surprisingly political affair, looking at the (positive) impact of globalization on Tampopo's parallel threads of cinematic genres and trans-national cuisine, versus the xenophobic, nationalist fervour of the Donald Trumps of the world.
A great disc of a great film, Criterion's Tampopo is lacking in only one substantial regard: where are the ramen recipes?