Thursday, April 23, 2009

Favourite food moments in cinema

This will be a little ongoing series of two things that complement each other quite nicely, food and film. Good films explore universal questions we all ask of ourselves regarding relationships between each other and the world we live in. Food (of any kind) provides a means to explore and demonstrate how some of these questions are answered at an individual and collective cultural level.

Let's start with a film that has been recently released by the great Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, "Ponyo on the Cliff", an anime film part "Little Mermaid" and part combination of Japanese myths and folklore. B and I went to see it as we are big fans of Miyazaki, "Spirited Away" being arguably one of the best in the anime genre. "Ponyo on the Cliff" is less complex in the story telling than some of his other films as it was intended primarily for small children, around 5 years old. The story revolves around two main characters, Sosoke, a young boy who discovers a very strange creature, a mermaid of sorts, one day on the beach. He names her Ponyo (I thought it very funny when it was revealed that she was originally named Brunehilde) and they become fast friends. Unfortunately forces are at work to keep them apart and the film describes what they encounter and how they resolve a number of trials to be together.

The story is charming and light, perhaps a wee bit overload (ok ok, quite a lot) on the cutesy, though the imagery always remains imaginative. What I was most attracted to were the depictions of the delight of very simple things, seen mostly through the eyes of Ponyo. The ordinary becomes magical because she is experiencing everything human for the first time. I know personally that my first powerful childhood memories are associated with scents, mostly of food. In the film we see the same rapport develop when, for instance, they are dining on noodles.

(Admittedly I too look a bit like this when I get served a big bowl of delicious noodles.)

Ponyo and Sosoke are safely tucked into their home during a tsunami and are served steaming bowls of noodles with garnishes of egg, what I assume to be okra, and ham. What can be more primordially comforting than that? Sheer comfort and delight, something we always try to get back to with whatever comfort foods we prepare, usually something hot and simple.

The other food scene I quite liked is when Ponyo is offered food for the first time. Initially Sosoke offers her bread from his sandwich, which she refuses. She then jumps out of her pail of water to gorge on the ham filling instead. There was a taboo in Japan until the Meiji period (late 19th century) on the consumption of pork, the ban being instigated initially as a result of what I imagine to be counter to Bhuddist beliefs. The ban was lifted as a result of foreign forces (namely American) forcing the Japanese to open their ports to an influx of new trade and external influences. It would not surprise me if Miyazaki was trying to demonstrate with the ham scene a conflict between traditional Japanese beliefs and the changing attitudes of a modern population. Whatever the reason may be it is quite hilarious, especially when, like any child who finds a new affection, she goes on and on about it.

Do you have any cinematic film moments that have made an impression on you? If so, share, share, share.


  1. The scene toward the end of Amelie...where she is baking a cake and lamenting what she believes is a lost opportunity with the cute man she's been trailing...and she daydreams that he knocks at her door, bearing a packet of yeast for her famous cake...this breaks my heart...

  2. Amelie... I hold a profound hatred for that film, but this isn't the place to debate it.

    I'll have to think more about a film moment to submit, but this discussion reminds me of an annual movie marathon that a friend of mine hosts. Each guest brings a DVD of their 'must see once a year' film, along with a food and drink to accompany it.

    My contribution would be Bullets Over Broadway, roast chicken served from my pockets and gin martinis.

  3. Ok, since my Amelia reference drew such scorn (heh heh), here's another more respectable scene:

    The bit in Tampopo where the couple swaps an egg yolk mouth-to-mouth. FYI: a boyfriend and I once got trashed and decided to try this. It was *not* sexy or romantic, only disgusting. I can strongly caution against attempting it yourself.