Question of the Week: Comfort Movies

What’re some of your “comfort movies”?

By that I mean movies you associate with fond memories, perhaps friends, maybe the best summer of your life, could be just your favorite food. I’ve got a lot of these. Two in particular stand out in part because of food.

One of them is Tampopo (“Dandelion”), a wonderful comedy by the late, great Juzo Itami. The director’s life is worth Googling, as are the film’s stars, Tsutomu YamazakiNobuko MiyamotoKoji Yakusho, and Ken Watanabe. It wasn’t my first viewing, but my most memorable one was at my friend Pierce Watter’s house, along with Chris Perkins, a prolific contributor to Dungeon Adventures and later its editor, and later still a creative high mucky muck at Wizards of the Coast.

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Some of the vignettes featuring Koji Yakusho’s gangster are absurdly sexy.

As was often the case, Pierce cooked supper, which on that occasion was his approximation of shrimp scampi. He was unfamiliar with the dish, so he didn’t butterfly and saute the shrimp, but it turned out delicious anyway. That was important, since Tampopo is a movie about, among other things, food. I defy you to watch it without getting hungry.

The basic plot is that a pair of truck drivers stop for a bowl of ramen, fight the local bully until the younger one must flee to complete their delivery, and the older one wakes up in the care of the shop owner. She recognizes him as a discerning gourmand, so when he criticizes her breakfast, she begs him to help teach her the secret to creating the perfect bowl of ramen.

From that point their adventures form a picaresque as they seek out masters of broth, noodles, and various other elements of creating and selling noodles. The camera drifts away from our main characters to linger on side stories involving sex, food, and love, all of them hilarious, and all of them collectively blurring the lines between the three topics until you realize they’re all one. It’s a film that makes me hungry even as it feeds me.

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The various family crises come out at Old Chu’s weekly family banquet.

I have a similar feeling about a Taiwanese film, Ang Lee’s great Eat Drink Man Woman. This one focuses on a widower and his daughters. A veteran chef, he’s been losing his sense of taste in recent years, but he’s still a master. Once a week he hosts a glorious banquet for his children, and invariably one of them says, “I have an announcement.” Thus the plot thickens, romantic complications and hilarious misunderstandings ensue.

Eat Drink Man Woman is one of the films my wife, Lindy, and I both adore. She considers it one of the films we jokingly describe as one in which “nobody gets hurt, and everyone is a good person.” Of course that’s a hasty generalization, but what it means is that it’s a melodrama about human beings, not heroes and villains, and the excitement comes when layers of misunderstanding or falsehood are peeled away to get at the human truth.

Most weeks Lindy and I host a movie screening, and our friends bring food and drink to share. That’s my favorite way to enjoy a movie, in large part thanks to Tampopo and Eat Drink Man Woman.

What are your comfort movies? Please tell us about them in comments here.

 

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