A hell of a weird, fun flick. The central story is a sort of Western parody: a couple of truckers come across a lousy ramen place run by a woman named Tampopo and decide to help her improve it, recruiting more experts until she has the best ramen in town, then disappear into the sunset. But the movie’s most genius idea was cutting little food-related vignettes into the main film, basically an improvement on the structure and focus of The Kentucky Fried Movie.

The first I’ve seen by Itami, who also made episodic comedy The Funeral, and died twenty years ago this week. Tampopo is Nobuko Miyamoto (Itami’s wife, star of Sweet Home), along with her team: main trucker Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki: Farewell to the Ark, Kagemusha, Rikyu), his sidekick Gun (Ken Watanabe, the most famous Japanese man in Hollywood), broth master Yoshi Kato (a bunch of Shinoda films including Silence), noodle expert Shohei (Kinzô Sakura of Itami’s A Taxing Woman), and hardass interior designer Pisken (Rikiya Yasuoka of some early Miike movies).

I’ve already forgotten half of the incidental sideplots, but the recurring one featured a white-suited gangster (Kôji Yakusho, the guy from Doppelganger, Tokyo Sonata, Eureka) and his girl (Fukumi Kuroda of Tales of a Golden Geisha) having weird food sex.

A middling haunted-house movie, with none of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s post-Cure style of evil lurking in the offscreen space. Some inspired moments, and some cinematic plot points (living shadows, a slide melting under a projector bulb, an actor melting in much the same way). Apparently the movie is most famous for having spawned a “survival horror” Nintendo game which inspired the Resident Evil series. Also the last time Juzo Itami (Japanese New Wave actor, more recently in Grass Labyrinth) appeared as an actor, having already turned to directing with Tampopo and a few others. I assumed that he played Old Man Exposition, the local crank who helps out at the end, but no that was Tsutomu Yamazaki, an actor in Tampopo, so I don’t know where Itami showed up.

not Juzo Itami:

A TV production talks their way into the long-abandoned mansion of a dead artist to document the murals he’d painted on his walls. Widower Kazuo (Shingo Yamashiro of some Kinji Fukasaku movies) is the show’s producer. He brings along his daughter Emi (pop singer Nokko – in her mid-20’s, but I bought her performance as a middle-schooler) and show director Akiko (Nobuko Miyamoto, also of Tampopo) – our family-unit heroes, which leaves the other two (driver/cameraman/comic relief Taguchi and melodramatic on-air personality Asuka) to be murdered by ghosts.

L-R: Asuka, Taguchi, surrogate mom, actual dad, “child”:

And murdered they are, with surprisingly good, goopy gore effects. First Asuka turns into a ghost, yelling “give me back my baby” then digging up an actual baby coffin. Then the shadows come to life, so they all have to hide in patches of light. Taguchi doesn’t make it, gets burned clean in half and Asuka finishes him with a wrench shortly before an axe falls on her head.

Akiko vs. furnace:

Old Man Exposition comes to the house and walks into the furnace to rescue Emi, kidnapped by ghosts. But either he fails or she’s kidnapped again, and her dad gives up, leaving Akiko to rescue the girl, proving herself a worthy wife/mother figure. I did like the evil-mother monster who fights her with lightning there at the end.