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The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice was released in 1952 during the most prominent and prolific years of Yasujiro Ozuâ(TM)s filmmaking. Later, he would be saying he doesnâ(TM)t consider this film up-to-a-mark, but I truly think The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice is another fantastic and touching addition to the collection of family dramas made by Ozu.
This time Ozu shows on the screen unstable and bumpy relations of a recently married couple which is quite uncommon to him. In the majority of Ozuâ(TM)s films, the love and respect of husband and wife are shown as an unconditional thing, but not in The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice. The troublesome union consists of snobbish and spoiled daughter of wealthy businessman Taeko (Michiyo Kogure) and her provincial husband Mokichi (Shin Saburi) from a remote part of Japan who became a successful business executive. The marriage has been arranged, and Taeko doesnâ(TM)t seem to be very happy about her family life. In fact, she doesnâ(TM)t have many things to be anxious about as housework is handled by the servant, and her husband doesn't mind her living the way she is comfortable with. Taeko hates the habits of her husband considering him provincial, not a well-mannered and chuffy villager. She laughs at him talking to her friends, yet he doesnâ(TM)t really give her any reason to humiliate or disrespect him. We see Taeko being not mature enough to understand Mokichi.
Once again Ozu talks about the arranged marries. Introducing the character of Setsuko (portrayed by gorgeous Keiko Tsushima), he has shown how inconsistent the arranged marriages could be, from the point of view of the youth. A 21-years old Setusko prefers to spend time with her girlfriends drinking, having fun, watching baseball or playing in pachinko parlour and she doesnâ(TM)t want to go for dates for arranged marriage, as her family insists. She considers such union a primitive feudalistic custom, and we see her attitude has merit. Taeko shares the same opinion. At the same time, some other protagonists talking about the arranged marriages explain that it might look inconsistent from the first sight, yet the things are not so simple. As plot advances and time goes by, Mokichi continues loving Taeko and trying to adjust with respect to her wishes and egoistic, surly behavior. We see there is a room here to think if such arranged marriage is actually as bad, as Setusko imagined it to be.
Eventually, Taeko would come to the eye-opening point when she understands how loving and considerate her husband is, and their union is a blessing for both of them, despite being arranged by the parents. She learns that the most important things in life are simple and basic just as working-class food such as rice and green tea. She learns there is no wisdom in her snobbish behavior and she understands that modesty, love and respect are the pivotal qualities she can develop in family life, along with Mokichi.
The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice is one of the most moving films of Ozu. There are a lot of amusing scenes from the life of Teako, Setsuko and Aya (Chikage Awashima) when they sneak out deceiving Taekoâ(TM)s husband. This sense of humour of Ozu will get developed with Akibiyori and An Autumn Afternoon radiating with funny domestic scenes. Despite an abundance of amusing episodes, Ozu talks about very serious things being able to avoid the traditional melodrama genre which applies to many similar films. Also, Ozu shows the characters of Mokichi and Setsuko in a very elaborate way. We see that Mokichi is a really decent man who deserves respect. And Setsuko meanwhile is an incendiary, restive girl who is actually not meant for any marriage, as of yet. There is no universal truth about arranged marriages applying to all cases, and it could be different for Mokichi and Setsuko. As Mokichi is finally on the way to embrace happiness in his family life with Taeko at the end of the film, we see Setsuko on a date walking with a ânonchalantâ? guy, implying this could be the beginning of their romantic relationships.
A cheeky but ultimately moral tale about the blessing of groundedness and 'reliability'. The portraits are winning, and the coming and goings of domestic life in Japan during the 1950s are mesmerising. As a window in to a beautiful culture the film succeeds, even if the storyline is more straightforward.
For a 1960s film with a modern-day relevance, I can say it's a masterpiece both in style and context. Nevertheless, the pace is too slow.
Ochazuke no Aji (The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice) (Yasujiro Ozu, 1952)
I'm not sure it's possible to argue that Yasujiro Ozu was not, during his long and prolific career, one of the world's finest filmmakers. (I'm not sure anyone has ever tried. But still.) At least one professional critic ranks an Ozu film, Tokyo Monogatari, as the best movie ever made. The critical consensus as They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? lists ten of Ozu's films in the thousand best ever made as of the 2013 list (The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is not one of them. Neither is Record of a Tenement Gentleman, for my money Ozu's finest moment; it sits at #12 on my own thousand-best list as of December 2013, while The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice languishes, relatively, at #307). To put that into perspective, Scorsese has nine entries on that list, Welles and Truffaut eight, Spielberg and Tarkovsky seven; the only directors represented more often are Bunuel, John Ford, Godard, Bergman, and Fritz Lang. (Akira Kurosawa also has ten on the list.) This guy, he's good. Of course, he also churned out movies like Merzbow churns out CDs, and there are any number of nooks and crannies where a film geek can get lost in the Ozu canon; there may be no one alive who's seen every movie the guy ever made. I got the chance to catch two of Ozu's "minor" films, this and A Hen in the Wind, at the Cleveland Cinematheque, the only two I've had a chance to see on the big screen so far. A Hen in the Wind is good; The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is great.
There are two parallel storylines going on here. The first concerns an older couple, Mokichi (Late Autumn's Shin Saburi) and Taeko (Lake of Tears' Michyo Kogure). They have reached middle age and, simply, are starting to get on one anothers' nerves. Mokichi, a salaryman with a stable if not massive company, is often sent on long business trips, and years for the simple life of his youth, while Taeko is suffering a midlife crisis and years for action. Along with this is the story of their niece Setsuko (The Seven Samurai's Keiko Tsushima), who is rebelling against the Japanese tradition of arranged marriage through a series of elaborately-staged reasons for begging off arranged dates-until one time where she simply doesn't show up. Now, reading that synopsis, if this were an American film, you would know exactly what to expect, especially given the first extended sequence, where Taeko concocts an elaborate lie (involving Setsuko) in order to go on a spa weekend with some friends; the two women would bond over their shared rebellion blah blah blah. Ozu, who co-wrote, goes you one better: Setsuko runs into Mokichi, the two of them go off and play pachinko together, and they form a bond (as well as Setsuko meeting Michiko's co-worker Noboru (Kôji Tsuruta, of the Red Peony Gambler franchise), who's quite the hunk.
I'm not sure I've ever seen an Ozu film that one could describe as a comedy; A Hen in the Wind and Record of a Tenement Gentleman come closest, but there are small touches of humor in every Ozu film, even the saddest. The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, on that number line, struck me as being on the more comedic side; there were moments when the audience laughed out loud. Not many, mind you, but there is a lighter feel to this than, say, Tokyo Story or Late Spring. And for the love of geishas, the cinematography in this thing. I just sat there gape-mouthed during a couple of shots in the opening titles (pay attention to where Ozu puts the camera in relation to buildings; this becomes a motif throughout the film, though it is never as up-front as it is during the first few moments, and it's kind of genius). Ozu's films are usually beautiful, even when they're supposed to be grimy (think Floating Weeds here), but a couple of shots here really knocked me for a loop-this is Apichatpong Weerasethakul-level stuff decades before that guy was even born. I opened the review saying it, and I will close the same way: this is a great film, all too rarely screened these days. Definitely go ahead and rent it, but if you get a chance to catch it on the big screen, it's the rare domestic drama that plays out even better when you have a massive screen to take in all the wonderful stuff Ozu is doing with a camera. ****
One of Ozu's masterpieces. Ozu has the rare ability to make great films with his characters doing simple activities, such as being in the kitchen or feeding fish. There are a number of shots I loved. It also has great performances. Lovely!
Considering he was a lifelong bachelor, Ozu isn't the best director of marital trouble films (look to Naruse for that), but this lesser film, made between the masterpieces "Early Summer" and "Tokyo Story", about an arranged marriage on rocky grounds, is interesting nonetheless.
There's a continuing discussion of the value of the familiar and the intimate, and while this isn't top-tier Ozu by any stretch, it's simple and lovely.
Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice starts with an excellent shot. Riding in the back of a car are two women, one is dressed in modern westernised clothes, while the other is dressed in a kimono. Such a shot perfectly captures many of Ozu's themes. Ozu then strengthens his topics with a simple conversation where Setsuko discusses seeing a French movie. Taeko is a bored housewife that insults her husband on a country getaway with her friends and niece. This really offends her niece Setsuko, and when it comes time for a wedding interview Setsuko is terrified that she will end up like her cruel aunt. Taeko's husband Mokichi is a very simple man with great patience. He tries to go along with his wife, but eventually it all becomes toomuch. She doesn't like the way he eats, the way he travels, or the cigarette brand he smokes. If I have one problem with this movie it's that Taeko is the most unlikable of Ozu's characters I have seen. She is simply cruel to an extent that it goes beyond culture/generational differences. Luckily it all adds together for an incredible ending. In true Ozu style, the married couple struggling to make something as simple as rice ignites their love and they decide to really make a go of things. It's really comforting to see a film that avoids all melodrama and rushes to the airports. It proves that subtlety can be a powerful thing.
Powerful and understated, need to see more Ozu, this is only the third of his I've seen and I've loved them all.