Westerns trading influences, between the U.S., Japan, and Italy
June 1, 2020 7:29 PM   Subscribe

There’s a lot going on in this film: satire of the Japanese craze for European-style fine dining, comic reappropriation of American Westerns and Kurosawa, criticism of the relegation of women to the least prestigious kinds of cooking. In one of the movie’s many surreal interludes, a dying woman rises from her sickbed to cook one last dinner before expiring. My Quarantine: Savoring the Ramen Western by Sophie Pinkham for NY Books. Except Tampopo is far from the first western-styled Japanese movie, as discussed in Ramen Westerns: Far East Meets Old West from Criminal Elements, which looks at the movie exchanges between Japan and the United States.

A list of trailers (and Wikipedia links), and their connections:
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (trailer) previously: The moon waxes ...
posted by filthy light thief at 7:45 PM on June 1, 2020

I love Akira Kurosawa (and Sergio Leone...). Kurosawa was very prolific in his early years though, and not all of his films are masterpieces. ...though, almost all of them have something to recommend them.

I think The Hidden Fortress and Rashomon are both good films, but both are slowly paced, and not among Kurosawa's best work. Unfortunately, they get name-checked a lot, and I think end up as a frequent introduction to his work for a lot of people - to everyone's detriment.

My into-to-Kurosawa list is: Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Ran, and High and Low - in that order.

...maybe follow that up with Red Beard, Stray Dog, and Kagemusha. By then, you're either in or out, and if you're in, then you'll love Rashomon and have the patience for The Hidden Fortress.

Sergio Leone is a lot easier. He made far fewer films, and the ones you've heard of are quite good. The ones you haven't heard of* tend to play like lesser variations on his better films, so they're usually worth watching.

*"Duck, You Sucker/A Fist Full Of Dynamite" is regarded as criminally under-rated in some film circles. It is definitely better than its belly-flop at the box office implies. I think it's very watchable with the caveat that it has 85 minutes worth of very good movie stretched out to more than 2-1/2 hours.
posted by Anoplura at 8:19 PM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

See ya, space cowboys.
posted by clew at 9:08 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Tampopo was playing at my single screen indie/ arthouse cinema a few years ago and I greatly enjoyed it.

COVID sadly has killed that theater
posted by CostcoCultist at 9:12 PM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Glass Key yt (1942) inspired 用心棒 / Yojimbo yt (1961)

which was remade as A Fistful of Dollars in 1964 starring Clint Eastwood, who would direct the 1992 Western film Unforgiven, which was remade as (許されざる者, Yurusarezaru Mono) in Japan in 2013. The circle is complete.
posted by star gentle uterus at 9:18 PM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

It should also be noted when discussing "Ramen Westerns" that Kurosawa was hugely influenced by John Ford, mater of the Old Hollywood Western, so it's not as simple as Americans (or Italians) remaking (or "stealing" as I sometimes see it put) Japanese movies. It's more a Japanese director incorporating inspirations from American Westerns into Japanese samurai movies, which in turn inspired European and American directors to incorporate elements of those movies into theirs.
posted by star gentle uterus at 9:26 PM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

The Glass Key yt (1942) inspired 用心棒 / Yojimbo yt (1961)

which was remade as A Fistful of Dollars in 1964 starring Clint Eastwood, who would direct the 1992 Western film Unforgiven, which was remade as (許されざる者, Yurusarezaru Mono) in Japan in 2013. The circle is complete.

I would include the Coen brothers' Miller's Crossing and the (serviceable) Bruce Willis vehicle Last Man Standing in that circle.
posted by Anoplura at 9:30 PM on June 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love Tampopo so much. The whole "noodle western" aspect of the narrative is pretty thin, though, as the film mainly serves as a framework to present short vignettes around the theme of food and dining.

I plan on using a projector to rig my own outdoor cinema this summer to share it with my community, with appropriate social distancing of course.
posted by St. Oops at 9:39 PM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Thanks for this, I love a great food movie, and I love Ramen. I've put Tampopo on my watch list.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:53 PM on June 1, 2020

Not noodle related but...There's this thing in my personal cinematic gestalt, that I don't want to do a cross cultural claiming, and darn, maybe I can't express it better than 'Hey, Same Hat!!' or maybe two_spidermans.gif, but...

I consider Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman, the character (25 films!), to be one of the premiere 'Movie Western' characters ever put to film. If we're saying that one of the keys to 'Movie Westerns' is the A Stranger Comes to Town, and Its Sins Are Exposed with A Showdown story trope, then he's your huckleberry.

Watch this and try to NOT hear the jingle of spurs as they step past each other. Maybe Glenn Ford and a young Lee Van Cleef?

And this isn't the bargain bin of churned out genre flicks, I mean the filmmaking will make you hold your breath while your heart pounds in your ears, because you can't just do a draw, bang, bad guy falls over with a blind man with a sword cane as your Mysterious Stranger.

So the Cinematic Exchange Venn diagram has this serendipitous overlap between Westerns and...I dunno, Easterns? Gunslinger and Swordsman? And I love it, in the manner of those old Reese's ads - hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate / chocolate in my peanut butter!!
posted by bartleby at 10:04 PM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Hollywood didn't quite do as well when they made their own attempt at a Zatoichi-like film with Rutger Hauer in 1989.
But it has its moments.

And then there was that time they stunt-cast Toshiro Mifune, Charles Bronson, and Alain Delon in 1972s Red Sun.

Not at all as well accomplished as the (quite western?) tap-dancing cast curtain call musical number at the end of Takeshi Kitano's 2003 take on Zatoichi, which is a rhythmic delight in any genre.
posted by bartleby at 10:25 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

For anyone familiar with Ford's Fort Apache, you might find some interest in Kihachi Okamoto's rather brilliant Fort Graveyard. Which serves as both homage and something of a critique of Ford's themes as seen through the lens of Japanese Imperialism in WWII. The movie uses its references to the US, the Western, baseball, jazz music as both an ironic counterpoint to Japanese ambitions during the war and as a bleakly comic commentary on the values of imperialism as made popular by US westerns.

Okamoto, who also directed Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, is obviously influenced by US westerns, even making one himself of a sort, East Meets West, which is more interesting perhaps than good for how it likens the mythology of the "cowboys and Indians" Western, particularly of the sixties/seventies revisionist type, to a Samurai and Ninja framework that seeks to parallel some of the biases in westerns to the class structure behind the samurai/ninja relationship in Japanese cultural history. Even better are his movies Kill!, The Sword of Doom, and Samurai Assassin, all of which have share some more indirect resonance with the western, both of the US and Italian models while also being set more decidedly within the chanbara (samurai) genre. Other great Japanese directors also took some influence from US westerns in making samurai centered films, but often with a remove where the popularity of that version of filmed violence was layered into something more centrally Japanese in concern.

The influence of the western also reached into other parts of the world and produced interesting cultural takes on the themes, like the so-called Osterns or "Red Westerns" such as Oldřich Lipský's Czech western parody Lemonade Joe, or Josef Mach's East German movie The Sons of the Great Bear, which led to a series of East German westerns that reversed the more common US "cowboy and Indian" dynamic, making the Indians the heroes. Ramesh Sippy's western influenced Sholay was a enormous success in India and there have been a considerable number of other films from India that borrowed concepts from westerns or found ways to just steal the imagery of the western for set pieces without necessarily trying to make a western-like film, as in this fantastic song/dance Mukkala Mukkabla from the movie Kadhalan, which is otherwise set in current times.

The direction of the cultural influence has been clearly more from the US to the other parts of the world, thanks to the US's long near strangle hold on exporting movies thanks to the hold gained during the early to mid part of the last century when much of the rest of the world was dealing with wars and the like, while attitudes of US exceptionalism has kept audiences here from like participation with the film histories of the other parts of the world leaving popular US culture far more parochial in its perspective. It's that element that keeps me from wanting to celebrate the one sided relationship too much, even as there is so much to get from how the rest of the world has adapted the themes and imagery of the westerns to fit their own cultural needs. I just hope people will think as much about what gets changed in these translations as they find comfort or pleasure in seeing something familiar enough that can be enjoyed without any real effort to understand.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:55 PM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Oh, and that said, it is also maybe worth noting that Italy, for a short while in the mid to late sixties through '75 or so, may have briefly replaced teh US as the most influential commercial film market in the world. Not so much for box office per se, but by the way they adapted old genres like the western, horror movies, and sex comedies for a new youth oriented market at the same time the US studio system was dying and new censorship laws were coming into place. During those few years, Hollywood made a concerted effort to emulate Italian films both high and low, which helped lead the way to the "blockbuster" era, for good or bad.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:39 AM on June 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sukiyaki Western Django was also inspired by the Dollars trilogy

It's also about the Wars of the Roses according to Shakespeare and The Tale of the Heike, with the "red" Heike/Lancaster and the "white" Genji/York, slotted into the feuding clans of Yojimbo/ Fistful. A weird little movie, but you have to watch it.

I haven't seen Throne of Blood mentioned above, but it's a superb version of Macbeth.

Another interesting back-and-forth was Road to Perdition (comic then film), which ultimately came from the manga and movie series about the Lone Wolf and Cub.
posted by sukeban at 4:52 AM on June 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

the (serviceable) Bruce Willis vehicle Last Man Standing in that circle.

The only time Last Man Standing should be mentioned in the same breath as Miller’s Crossing is as a Goofus and Gallant type lesson to children on the difference between terrible and magnificent.

Don’t be like Goofus, don’t make utterly loathe some movies like Last Man Standing.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:44 AM on June 2, 2020

Another interesting back-and-forth was Road to Perdition (comic then film), which ultimately came from the manga and movie series about the Lone Wolf and Cub

The Mandalorian is also heavily indebted to Lone Wolf and Cub (as well as westerns and samurai films in general.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:42 AM on June 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, bartleby mentioned 'Red Sun' (1972), well that's something...

I'll speak up for 'Hidden Fortress', true it has a kinda slow first act, but it builds up to some cool plot twists for a rousing conclusion. Maybe leaning more to art-film style rather than popcorn fare, but always worth a look.
posted by ovvl at 3:02 PM on June 2, 2020

Just watched Red Sun myself. I thought it was interesting and Mifune was a gem as usual but was disappointed by the conclusion.

As to other influential Japanese/US culture fare, there's 2 Samuel Fuller films: House of Bamboo (1955), about criminal ex-GIs in Japan, shot on-location in Tokyo; The Crimson Kimono (1959), about 2 WWII vet cops, one Nisei, one white, shot on location in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. There's also Sydney Pollack's Yakuza (1974), starring Robert Mitchum.

East Meets West (1995) is a Japanese-made western set in the US.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:13 AM on June 3, 2020

Fantastic film. Experimental in an immensely entertaining way. And guaranteed to get you to go to the nearest Ramen shop after.
posted by kolendra at 9:17 AM on June 3, 2020

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