The Film (5/5)
Described in the promotional material as a "Ramen Western" (and that still sells it short). Tampopo is a wonderfully weird (I could use that description for so many Japanese films that make their way into my Blu-ray player) tale of love, Ramen, sex, and gangsters that takes place around a rural Japanese ramen restaurant. The film opens with a pair of truckers Gun (Ken Watanabe) and Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) who stop during a storm at a ramen restaurant owned by the widowed Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). She is struggling to raise her son, and keep the business afloat. The latter it turns out because her ramen is terrible. The pair of truckers decide to leave their trucking lives behind them, and commit their lives to teaching Tompopo how to make great ramen and to help her with her restaurant and her life.
I had no expectations for Tampopo before it entered my player, and found myself blown away. The film had a positive vibe that few have. It also chose to eschew a traditional narrative structure. While the central story of the film follows Tampopo and her restaurant. The film is truly about food, and love for it, and the film will occasionally break off, and tell little individual food-centric short stories. These stories feel quite a bit surreal and the combined power of the main narrative and the shorts gave me a distinct Bunuel vibe. The film manages to juggle so many genres from comedy and western to even pink films, while maintaining a sense of continuous identity.
The direction from Juzo Itami keeps things flowing nicely and everything well paced, while maintaining a sense of controlled chaos. The performances across the board are fabulous, most notably Itami's wife and muse Nobuko Miyamoto who manages to be wonderfully dynamic both emotionally and physically in her role as Tampopo. We also get a fantastic early performance from Ken Watanabe. Tampopo is a delightfully eccentric film experience, and a film for food lovers and fans of eccentric cinema everywhere everywhere.
Criterion presents Tampopo in a splendid 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The Blu-ray is well detailed, has a wonderfully restored color palette, and accurate flesh tones. Grain is rendered naturally here, and I could find nothing to complain about.
Audio is handled by an LPCM 1.0 mono track in English. The track is clean and clear and I could not detect any issues.
There is an hour and a half long making of from 1986. Multiple new interviews from cast and crew, and also chefs and ramen Scholars (I never knew such a thing existed). We are also treated to Rubber Band Pistol the first short film from Itami from 1962. The set is rounded off by a video essay, trailer, and a booklet of liner notes.
Tampopo is a wonderful and weird film experience. The Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic, and is loaded up with extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.