Tonight, October 27th, at 6 p.m., the Royal/T starts the fall portion of its evening series, “Nighttime @Royal/T” with a screening of the eighties-era foodie mainstay, “Tampopo.” Directed by the late Japanese filmmaker, Juzo Itami and starring his award-winning actress wife Nobuko Miyamoto as the title character — a young widow struggling to keep her noodle-shop afloat — the 110-minute social satire counts Momofuku Noodle Bar's David Chang as one of its many vocal culinary world boosters.
It's easy to see why: food is the center of almost every scene of this “noodle western.” There's an opening bit where a sleek gangster warns a blithe potato chip cruncher at a movie theater to keep his noise to a minimum. Then noodle aficionado Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a trucker in a cowboy hat, kicks off the main plot by helping Tampopo (the name means “dandelion”) elevate her ho-hum ramen by putting her through a rigorous, Rocky-like noodle-making boot camp. (In what is perhaps the most famous vignette, a couple has PG-rated sex by sliding the whole yolk of an egg between their mouths until it finally bursts and dribbles all over their clothes.)
These days, it seems like everyone is fluent in food critic-ese. But back when “Tampopo” was first released, movie characters providing such furrow-browed analysis of a fast-food noodle (“They have sincerity, but lack substance”) could be passed off as dry comedy while simultaneously educating filmgoers about the utter dedication that is required to turn a bowl of broth, pork slices, vegetables, dried seaweed and strings of pasta into something transcendent.
In 1987, the US studio releasing “Tampopo” introduced Itami and his leading lady wife to thirty Los Angeles-based reporters and critics with a big wine-swilling dinner at which the couple rotated between three tables answering journalist's questions. At the end of a very long evening, we recall that we were surprised and charmed when Itami and Miyamoto gave this reporter a big, wet farewell kiss. To this day we don't know if they were tipsy, jet-lagged to the gills or misinformed about press-subject etiquette.
In 1997, the world lost Juzo Itami either to suicide or, as some believe, to a mysterious incident involving yakuza, the Japanese organized crime community that Itami loved to poke fun at in his movies. Perhaps these and other questions can be directed at Dr. Jordan A. Yamaji Smith, Lecturer in Japanese Studies and Comparative Literature at UCLA and CSU Long Beach, who will give a talk titled “Food, Sex, Satire in Modern Japan” at 7 p.m., just before the movie will be projected on the Royal/T's back white wall.
In keeping with tonight's noodle theme, Konbu, the in-house chef at Royal/T's Japanese maid cafe, will be creating a fresh ramen menu based on the seasonal ingredients he finds at today's farmer's market.
Ramen dinner service begins at 6 p.m. and the movie begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.