The only thing missing from the movie tonight was a bowl of hot ramen, but then, one of the Bijou co-founders acknowledged as much.
"If I'd thought about it in time, we'd have had ramen here tonight," James said during his introduction to "Tampopo," a 1985 Japanese ode to food that began with the requisite strangers of a classic Western riding into town reading from a master's book on how to eat ramen.
First, observe the ramen...caress the surface with the chopstick tips...then poke the pork.
If that didn't make it clear enough that we were about to see a film abut the romance of food (not to mention the sex of it) in the context of a "noodle Western," I don't know what would have. If I'd had a lick of sense, I'd have gone out for ramen before the movie rather than watching two hours celebrating the glory of the steaming bowl while salivating the entire time.
Thanks to the Bijou, we were watching a new 4K restoration of a film I'd never heard of, but one considered the precursor to other classic foodie movies such as "Big Night" and "Eat Drink Man Woman." I was so out of the loop on this one and they were here to bring me up to speed.
What surprised me most about "Tampopo" was how unexpectedly funny it was throughout, never more so than when noodles were slurped to their final whistling sound as they slid between lips.
Our hero was a cowboy hat-wearing truck driver who, along with his sidekick, happens on a ramen shop run by our heroine, a widow with a young son, one rainy night and decides to help her turn the failing venture into a top chef ramen joint.
Along the way, he wears his hat in the bathtub (a scene so steamy and appealing it made me want a bath STAT... Calgon, take me away...), fights some locals to make his point (but as in any good Western, they do it outside so as not to mess up the place) and tastes through every iteration of her ramen until, with the aid of the five men helping her research (so a whole lot of man-splaining goin' on), she finally gets it right, a climax that requires he smoke a cigarette.
Interspersed with the story of building the perfect ramen shop - visiting competitors, comparing recipes, and finessing culinary secrets from another chef - are a series of food-related sub-plots that reinforce the theme.
There's the gangster and his moll, both dressed all in white, sometimes even when they're using food to enhance their sex. Breasts get the whipped cream treatment, honey is poured and, in one startlingly memorable scene, they pass a raw egg yolk back and forth between their mouths until she bites it and it runs out of her mouth. Ahem.
Wait, there's more. A freshly caught oyster is eaten with a drop of blood atop it from a cut caused by the shell. A food-savvy street person sneaks into a restaurant to make a rice and ketchup pancake for the widow's son. A man forces his deathly ill wife to make dinner before dying and she does, then dies.
Easily the grossest thing we witnessed was a soft shell turtle having his throat slit so the blood could drain and he could be cooked. Honestly, that was something I could have lived without seeing.
When our middle-aged heroine got a makeover with a new 'do and very '80s-looking polka dot dress with massive shoulder pads, our taciturn hero was unimpressed. "Now you look hard to talk to," he said.
A scene involving a woman who'd go into a grocery store for the sole purpose of squeezing things - peaches, cheeses, buns - was striking because of the lack of color in the merchandise other than fruits and vegetables.
When I commented on that to my seatmate, the scooter queen, she snickered and said, "Their stores were still made of real ingredients." I fear our stores had already passed that threshold by 1985.
I couldn't have been the only one feeling my head spin watching such an absurdist Japanese take on a Spaghetti Western, but also a seriously sensuous movie. Excellent choice, Bijou.
Watching yet another round of ramen being sampled noisily on screen, my friend leans in and whispers, "This is a movie about slurping, isn't it?" Hmm, well, yes, as long as slurping is a metaphor for savoring food and sex.
Because we all know you can only slurp for so long before you've got to poke the pork. Fact.