Tampopo is a 1986 Japanese comedy about the delights of food. A milk truck driver wearing a cowboy hat comes across a single mother who is about to go out of business because her noodle shop sucks. The truck driver decides to help and because this movie was heavily inspired by Westerns, he assembles an unlikely group of experts to save her shop. Think of the Magnificent Seven except it is more like the Delicious Five.
The plot alone would make this movie a classic but what elevates this movie to greatness is that the many segues the director takes from the main story. Like a sketch comedy show, the camera will drift away to follow a passing character who stars in their own vignette. We see a business lunch at a French restaurant where none of the senior bosses know what to order but then the junior (and much abused) member shows them up with his mastery of the menu. At several points we see a gangster and his moll having the most sensual food sex scenes ever filmed. My favorite story might be the harried mother who rises from near-death to cook one last meal while in a walking coma for her begging family. These self-contained stories have nothing to do with the main plot except for showing another way that people interact with food.
This movie is a delight. It is amazing that it was made in 1986 because it feels like a prophecy of food culture, and food television, of the 2000’s. It explains the difference between a bad noodle place and a good one. There is a renovation scene where an expert describes the proper height for a noodle bar that could come from any current restaurant rescue show. Every other scene is filled with tips on improving your ramen soup that feels completely natural for the movie.
There is a new 2016 restoration of the movie now available. I highly recommend it as it looks gorgeous. My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you have plenty of food on hand because you will get hungry.