Where I Read Way too Deeply Into the Food From My Favourite Movies and Co.
By Nam Woon Kim
Nam Woon Kim is a film geek and a food freak and here he takes us on a brief, but intimate, look at some of his favourite food moments from films and series. Food can mean so much to so many of us and it can be the same for many of our favourite characters. Whether painting a portrait of who a person is, or reaching out from that screen to find a commonality with its audience, food and film are an unrivalled match.
Tony Soprano’s spoon and fork
The willpower used not to make this piece entirely about the Sopranos is not the same restraint exercised by the man himself when it comes to dining on the food of the show. There's been plenty said about the food in this show, whether it's memeing the infamous gabagool or psychoanalysing the relationship Tony has with food as a source of intergenerational trauma.
But, not enough attention is given to the humble forks and spoons that leading star James Gandolfini uses to flesh out the character. How Gandolfini approaches the neverending meals the production team churns out is up to the writing of the scene and which side of Tony we’re meant to be seeing.
When he's not eating cold cuts by hand out of the fridge first thing in the morning, he's either forking through what's on his plate or going through a tub of ice cream one spoon at a time. Food is much more than set-dressing when it comes to scenes with Tony. During his most vulnerable moments watching his comfort show of choice - usually World War 2 documentaries - he's swirling his way to the bottom of a bowl, spoon in hand. Tony, and the midnight desserts he’s seen with throughout the series, portrays a real and ordinary man - a key element of what makes the show so great. On the other hand, pass him a fork and Tony the ruthless mob boss comes to life. When Tony exerts his power, his trusty fork is right there with him. He stabs and scrapes the plate during meetings with subordinates he’d clearly rather not have.
As if he wasn’t intimidating enough, Tony will obliterate the food in front of him. A clear dichotomy that the directors rarely draw attention to, trusting the audience will pick up on it.
(I promise this next one is about actual food).
My Neighbor Totoro bento boxes
Growing up, VHS tapes were one of my strongest connections to a home I left as a baby. Every trip we’d make back and forth between here and Seoul involved taking with me new movies or home-video style vignettes of me getting up to no good, as kids tend to do. My sense of family and culture were mediated by this now-dead format and one of my most prized tapes was a Korean-dubbed My Neighbor Totoro. Childhood memories are blurred by this movie which I would watch religiously both here in my new home of Tāmaki Makaurau and back in Seoul.
What kept me coming back to this movie was the relaxing portrait of life it illustrated. One of the details, which made this picture complete, was the food, particularly the bento boxes the elder sister Satsuki makes for her family.
Unlike the kids of the film, I was lucky to have my own mum pack us lunches in similar fashion with containers of varying shapes and sizes. This helped me feel at ease with a transition into new surroundings which I would have to navigate and make sense of, much like Satsuki and her younger sister Mei who move into a new home of their own. I can now see the two spaces I’d consider ‘home’ aren’t completely separate. The food we brought here anchors both homes into a messy, merged experience.
Those noodles at the end of Fallen Angels
Plain noodles from a bowl out of frame never looked so good.
We never get a proper look at what dish she’s eating. They look a little thin and soggy. The fork she’s using probably isn’t the best for the job either. And yet it looks delicious and I couldn’t imagine the scene without it. My introduction to the cinematic world of Fallen Angels was this shot of a woman eating noodles. I knew immediately I needed to see the rest.
This humble meal appears briefly at the ending where one of the many central characters enjoys a late night snack in solitude. With a cigarette in hand, she monologues about a life of crime that has left her isolated from other people. She doesn’t even flinch when a fight breaks out in the background and continues to cooly reflect. More than just a well-crafted shot, this long take poses the question of whether our cynical heroine has chosen to tune out the chaos of the world so she can enjoy her own quiet moments, or because she has given up. Either way, it paints a vivid picture and these noodles, a simple and mundane act to close a film, make the message that much stronger. Fallen Angels is filmed exclusively on a super wide-angle lens with the inhabitants of its grimey world often framed a little too close to the camera, as seen here. This stylistic choice, however, seems like the only sensible choice by the end of the film where we reach an intimate conclusion which begins over a bowl of noodles.