Tampopo ★★★★½


No doubt I'm forgetting something, but it's hard to think of another film with a structure like this: clear narrative throughline plus multiple tangents related solely by theme. Seeing it during its original U.S. theatrical run, at age 19, expanded my sense of what a movie can be; three decades later, the playfulness still delights, even if not all of the blackout sketches fully satisfy. (The one involving dueling con men is barely even food-related.) It's also clearer to me now that the main story, cannily marketed by New Yorker Films as a "noodle Western," really owes much more to American sports movies and their training montages. Applying the genre's tropes to ramen preparation is an inspired idea that's not quite rich enough to sustain an entire feature on its own, and Itami's somewhat jerry-rigged solution—complete with young Kôji Yakusho (I had no idea that was him! hadn't seen this since before I knew who he was) delivering meta-commentary straight to the camera—somehow feels at once sui generis and like the low-key Japanese equivalent of peak ZAZ. That foreign/familiar combo made it a superb arthouse gateway film back in the day. Glad to see it holds up.