Tompopo is a Japanese full-length feature film that was released in 1985. It was called the “first Noodle Western”, which is a joke on Spaghetti Westerns, which are Western films that are made by Italian production studios. Director Juzo Itami has been labeled one of the greatest Japanese directors aside from Akira Kurosawa. He was an actor at first and then branched out to write and direct a number of funny satires about Japanese life. Tompopo was actually the second film he directed, and has been hailed as one of his best. Tompopo literally translates into English as dandelion.
The movie starts strangely. A gangster is sitting in a movie theater. He has “assistants” running here and there fetching him champagne and a meal. He looks right at the camera and starts talking to the audience. This is something that is not done often in movies, especially Japanese movies. The “real” movie then begins when two truckers enter a little noodle shop that is run by a woman named Tompopo. Ramen noodles have become synonymous with the Japanese culture. The truckers start to fight and end up knocking each other out.
The next morning, Tompopo feeds the truckers her noodles. She has been desperately trying to keep her family’s noodle shop going but is a terrible cook, and is told this by the truckers! The man that got beat up is named Goro, and he informs her that he is an expert about noodles. He tells her that he will train her to become the best noodle-maker in the entire world. Tampopo accepts his help and starts to learn. Through out the movie, various other characters enter into the shop and teach her how to make specific parts of the noodles, like the broth or the noodles themselves. Each has their own little story.
One story is about a master who is teaching his student how to properly eat a bowl of soup. Apparently it is very complicated as the master tells the student that the soup has to be eaten just so. He informs the student that the meat should be caressed with the chopsticks, not just grabbed, and so on.
Another vignette comes from a young couple. This couple uses food in place of sex! They worship the food and literally make noises that would make anybody not watching the movie believe that it was in reality a sex movie.
A third story comes about a woman who is dying. The man is desperate, not so much because the woman is dying but because he will no longer have a housewife! The dying woman manages to rise from her deathbed to cook rice for her family before she passes away.
Another story comes from a group of homeless men. They tell Tampopo that they have been working on perfecting a bunch of French cuisines. One of the homeless men informs Tampopo that he has created the perfect sake after working it for over fifteen years.