Tampopo ★★★★

The saying goes that some people eat to live, and some people live to eat. Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo” is the rare serving of food porn that brings both groups to the table. First released in 1985 (and now returning to theaters with a delectable new 4K restoration), this timeless Japanese classic begins with a petulant gangster bringing a full picnic into a movie theater, and ends with a hungry infant instinctively suckling on his mother’s breast. In between, Itami’s fiercely beloved film unfolds like a prix fixe tasting menu of strange comic delights, the director’s fabulist sensibilities feeding into an episodic foodie fantasia about all of the things that give life its flavor and make it worth savoring.

The only movie ever made that could accurately be described as a cross between “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Babette’s Feast,” and “Songs From the Second Floor,” “Tampopo” has been billed as a “ramen western,” and that’s as good a description as any for what Itami managed to cook up. After a delightful prologue in which Kōji Yakusho’s swaggering gangster shatters the fourth wall and whets our appetites for something special, the film introduces us to the driving forces of its so-called plot.