Tampopo and Auto-Erotic Assimilation

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I love small movie theaters. I love seeing old movies in small theaters. It’s romantic recycling, like taking out the tiara every few years to reenact your debutante ball to make some beer money. I don’t really know what goes on at debutante balls, only what forced feminization erotica writers think happens at them; I think I was born or transitioned at a generational cutoff where trans visibility was only largely, not exclusively, in the realm of porn, and so trans women around my age have an uneasy co-existence with sissy/forced fem/transformation porn, whereas trans women younger than us have had the benefit of a more ascertainable roadmap. Shit, let everyone be anime cat girl programmers; I endured years of having to explain to professors and partner’s parents the difference between me and a drag queen so these 20-something trans girls could be kawaii maids because they think it’s cute and not because the porn that came up when they searched “transsexual” suggested that performing mincing inferiority was the only love language available to them in a transphobic world.

I saw Tampopo in the theatres a few weeks ago—every foodie I know gushes about this movie. It’s one of the few “films about food” that doesn’t require you to know anything about the food. I mean, even if you don’t appreciate haute cuisine, the plot of Simply Irresistible kind of depends on you having an awareness of the classism and sexism holding Sarah Michelle Gellar back, even if that empathy is siphoned into wanting her to succeed in her capitalist, monogamy-oriented life goals rather than setting fire to the restaurant for the insurance money, using the money to start a free kitchen and making every man who doubts her into a service submissive.

The significance of ramen—and what makes good ramen—is woven throughout the main narrative of the movie (wherein a team of Spaghetti Western archetypes help a widow revitalize her ramen shop). The vignettes that make up the rest of the film—young lovers experiment with food and sex before one of them is violently murdered, a grocery clerk chases down a woman trying to squeeze things—are humorous and gross in their own right. They don’t require scrutinous dissection, and verily, most people I’ve seen with opinions of the film just ignore any social/class/sexual critique and just try to fit in as many adjectives describing food into their praise for the film.

Tampopo is a film preoccupied with assimilation and deassmilation; assimilation of narrative and genre in conforming a story of Japanese culture into the “spaghetti western” narrative; assimilation (and resistance) of men and women to perform their appropriate gendered behavior within social structures; the food/wine expertise of the homeless encampment and how this knowledge further alienates them within their class.

I mean: it’s also a film where a woman orgasms after having an egg yolk spit in her mouth and the credits roll over a breastfeeding baby.

And, as I am wholly ignorant on the socio-economic factors of the Japanese post-war economic miracle and how Tampopo fits in with Japan’s history, any criticism I give on the film will be missing essential context.

But I do wanna talk about the spaghetti scene. You maybe predicted that’s where this was going when I lead with talking about forced feminization and weird ideas about the ritual of womanhood.

A recap: there is a scene in Tampopo where an etiquette instructor is attempting to teach a table of women the “proper” way to eat spaghetti. She emphasizes that you should be as silent as possible—not even a slight slurp or smack of chewing is permissible. Her demonstration is repeatedly undermined by a western man elsewhere in the restaurant, who eats his spaghetti, if not correctly, than accurately within the western culinary parlance, i.e. like a fucking animal.

The women unsteadily surrender to his example towards a climax of a table of posh-dressed women, once so ambitious in their aspirations, devouring their spaghetti in a brazen, desperate cacophony. The neatly proportioned gratification of assimilation gives way to the thrill of deassimilation.

“Eating out” is a common scenario of forced feminization/sissy porn—it’s one of the spaces in which women are the most scrutinized. In that realm of porn, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. There’s a truth in fiction; trans women have been seeing etiquette coaches and/or attending charm schools for decades. For better or worse, a rigid gender binary under patriarchy created a convenient checklist of identifiable markers for “womanhood”. In a sense, learning how to eat spaghetti with fake nails and unlearning how to open a door for yourself offers a glimmer of solace from the persistent onslaught of dismissal and disdain that is levied at women.

To that end, assimilation is erotic, whether you’re a trophy sissy or a cis woman with aspirations of dream and politesse.

For me, the spaghetti scene in Tampopo is one of the most erotic scenes I’ve watched in a movie theater. Women are first bound to esoteric and inexplicable cultural norms, acting out an unspoken power dynamic, competing with each other in their paralysis of natural inclination, in the hopes of becoming “proper” and “respectable”. But the sheer presence of a corrupting force rapidly erodes their restraint and they lurch violently into liberal self-debasement. They give in to deassimilation. They become soiled, disheveled, licentious failures. Defeated and free.

Some people live their whole lives in fear of this moment. Entire genres of porn stalk these filthy reaches, fattening themselves on the hard-ons of timidity.

“Charm school” porn is hot because domineering women in authority figures giving you impossible tasks to avoid inevitable punishment is a thrill, but it’s also hot because people who aspire to perform femininity well sometimes find a more productive internalized use for the seductive glint of a bowl of soggy blood-red noodles.

Author: Jetta Rae

Founder of Fry Havoc. Can be found on twitter at @jetta_rae

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