Tampopo (, Tanpopo, literally "dandelion seed") is a 1985 Japanese comedy film by director Juzo Itami, starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, and Ken Watanabe. The publicity for the film calls it the first "ramen western", a play on the term Spaghetti Western (films about the American Old West made by Italian production studios).
A pair of truck drivers happen onto a decrepit roadside fast food stop selling ramen noodles. The widowed owner, Tampopo, pleads them to help her turn her establishment into a paragon of the "art of noodle soup making".
A pair of truck drivers, the experienced Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and a younger sidekick named Gun (Ken Watanabe), stop at a decrepit roadside ramen (noodle) shop. Outside, Goro rescues a boy who is being beaten up by three schoolmates. The boy, Tabo, turns out to be the son of the widowed owner of the struggling business, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). When a customer called Pisken (Rikiya Yasuoka) harasses Tampopo, Goro invites him and his men to step outside. Goro puts up a good fight, but outnumbered by Pisken and his men, he is knocked out and wakes up the next morning in Tampopos home.
When Tampopo asks their opinion of her noodles, Goro and Gun tell her they are not very good. After Goro gives her some advice, she asks him to become her teacher. They decide to turn her establishment into a paragon of the "art of noodle soup making". Goro takes her around and points out the strengths and weaknesses of her competitors. She still cannot get the broth just right, so Goro brings in the "old master" (Yoshi Kato) and his superlative expertise. When they rescue a wealthy elderly man from choking on his food, he lends her his chauffeur Shohei, who has a masterful way with noodles. They also steal the best recipes from their competitors. During the transition, the group agrees to have the restaurants name changed from Lai Lai to "Tampopo".
Pisken feels bad for being too drunk to tell his men to stay out of the fight, so he offers Goro another chance one on one. After the rematch ends in a draw, Pisken reveals he is a contractor, and offers to make over the shops interior. Tampopos latest effort still comes up short, so Pisken teaches her his own secret recipe. When the five men consume her latest creation down to the last drop, Tampopo knows she has won. (Tabo also triumphs, beating all three of his tormentors). As customers fill her newly redecorated shop, the men file out one by one.
The main narrative is interspersed with stories involving food on several levels. Satirical vignettes involve a lowly worker who upstages his superiors by displaying his vast culinary knowledge while ordering at a gourmet French restaurant; a housewife who rises from her deathbed to cook one last meal for her family; and a womens etiquette class on how to eat spaghetti properly. Another subplot involves a corner store clerk who has to deal with an older woman (Sen Hara) obsessed with squeezing food. The clerks scene segues into a restaurant involving an investment scam and the intended victim, who turns out to be a conman himself.
The primary subplot involves a young man in a white suit (Koji Yakusho) – an elegant gangster – and his lover (Fukumi Kuroda), who explore erotic ways to use food. In the end, the man is shot several times by an unknown assailant, to his lovers horror, but uses his last words to convey his secret recipe for sausages.Nobuko Miyamoto as Tampopo
Tsutomu Yamazaki as Goro
Ken Watanabe as Gun
Koji Yakusho as Man in White Suit
Rikiya Yasuoka as Pisken
Sen Hara as Old Woman
Mariko Okada as the Etiquette Guide
Yoshi Kato as Beggar
Hideji Otaki as Rich Old Man
Toshiya Fujita as Man with Toothache
Ryutaro Otomo as Noodle Professor
Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, commenting that "Like the French comedies of Jacques Tati, its a bemused meditation on human nature in which one humorous situation flows into another offhandedly, as if life were a series of smiles."
Hal Hinson of The Washington Post wrote, "The movie, which Itami calls a noodle western, is a rambunctious mixture of the bawdy and the sublime." "Tampopo is perhaps the funniest movie about the connection between food and sex ever made."
Vincent Canby provided a somewhat dissenting, though still positive, opinion in his New York Times review, stating, "Though its not consistently funny ... Tampopo is one of the more engaging films to be shown in this years [New Directors/New Films] series." "Mr. Itami often strains after comic effects that remain elusive. The most appealing thing about Tampopo is that he never stops trying."
Tampopo has received unanimous praise from critics, with a 100% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, based on 28 reviews.
The 2006 American/Japanese movie The Ramen Girl, in which a girl played by Brittany Murphy learns how to make ramen, contains many references to Tampopo, including a cameo by Tsutomu Yamazaki.
A number of ramen restaurants around the world are named Tampopo.