In 1985 Juzo Itami made a film about food called Tampopo. There is a central story about a woman learning how to make Ramen but woven throughout the film is a series of comical vignettes that explore a wide variety of food-related ideas. Nestled in this anthology is a tender cinematic moment that is almost unbearably sweet.
A middle-aged man sits on a park bench with an ice-cream cone. It was supposed to be a soothing reward after having endured a painful dental procedure. He sits on the bench eating his treat when he notices a little boy watching him.
The little boy is a vision of irresistible pathos. His hair is tousled, his back is slightly arched which makes his tummy stick out a little, and he has a heartbreaking but subtle pouty bottom lip. He just stands there and stares with sad, little, curious eyes. The man with the ice-cream turns to the little boy and notices that tied around the boy’s neck is a hunk of sad-looking carrot. It hangs from there like a burdensome millstone. Next to it is a small cardboard sign that reads, “He only eats natural food. Don’t give him sweets or snacks — his mother.”
By this time your heart has grown so large, it is making a lump in your throat. You have to squint your eyes and frown in sympathy. The man offers the boy the delicious, double-decker cone and the boy stays very still as he stares intently at the ice cream. Then, as every mirror neuron in your brain is about to explode the camera pans down to the child’s little hand and we see him make tiny grabbing motions as he ponders what to do. This tiny gesture is so agonizing and sweet. It has to be one of the cutest things I have ever seen in my life. The boy accepts the cone and gingerly licks at it. There is a brief reaction shot of the man and then when we cut back the boy has fully embraced his choice and is burrowing into the ice-cream with gusto.
Its a purely visual scene that captures the audience in a deliciously intense moment of conflict and resolution. There’s dialogue or even much action or movement but it is captivating, like a dream or a brief memory that allows us momentary access to our childhood. A time when fulfillment was just an ice-cream away.
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