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With: Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure, Koji Tsuruta, Chikage Awashima, Chishu Ryu, Keiko Tsushima, Kuniko Miyake, Eijiro Yanagi
Written by: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Directed by: Yasujiro Ozu
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 116
Date: 07/22/2016

The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Tea Baggage

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The career of the Japanese master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu is beautifully aligned, not a little because he was born on December 12, 1903 and died exactly sixty years later, on the same date. Mainly, he emerged almost perfectly, making controlled, expertly constructed films, and matured very subtly over the years, making only barely perceptible changes until he achieved something close to grace. The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952) comes at a wonderful middle period, between Late Spring and Tokyo Story, as more questions were being asked and themes became more appealingly layered.

The film focuses mainly on married couple Mokichi Satake (Shin Saburi) and Taeko Satake (Michiyo Kogure). Wife Taeko is petulant and bored and concocts a scheme to get away for the weekend with some girlfriends; in order to do so she lies to the husband about one of her friends having appendicitis. While enjoying herself at a resort hotel, she complains about her husband being "obtuse." At home, she can't stand her husband slurping his broth and rice. Meanwhile, their niece, Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) is of marrying age, and her parents are trying to set her up with a husband, but she flatly refuses, citing Taeko's unhappy marriage -- also arranged -- as a reason.

Then, rather than soap opera histrionics, Ozu simply lets life rhythms flow. Mokichi has beers with a younger friend, Non-chan (Koji Tsuruta), goes to a pachinko parlor, meets an old army buddy, Sadao Hirayama (Chishu Ryu), and is tapped to fly to Uganda for a work trip. Taeko also disappears for a few days, missing out on the news that her husband is leaving. Then, everything comes together in a beautiful sequence when Mokichi's plane suffers engine trouble and turns around, and he winds up back in his kitchen with his wife, clumsily making a late-night meal; neither of them looks like they have ever even been in the kitchen before (their maid does all the cooking), and their attempts to cook and eat are quite touching.

Ozu argues that the "green tea over rice" is like a marriage, a theme that could be interpreted in many ways. Really, this movie holds the beginnings of his philosophy that acceptance is the key to peace, but with the caveat that there is always eternal, undying hope for the younger generation. The filmmaker presents all his themes in his traditional, trademark static shots, mostly framed in squares and rectangles, with only a few slanted lines, and extremely few tracking shots (I counted only five in the entire film). He uses a few "pillow" shots, mainly of train tracks and other signs of life, and music trails softly between scenes, giving things a subtle flow, like breathing. There never was and never will be another filmmaker quite like Ozu, coming remarkably close to cinematic perfection.

At last released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2019, this Ozu masterpiece looks amazing in its new 4K digital restoration (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray). It's definitely one of the year's most essential releases. If that's not enough, it comes with an entire other Ozu feature, What Did the Lady Forget? (1937); I haven't seen it yet, but I will post a review when I do. Film scholar David Bordwell contributes a video essay, and there's a short documentary about Ozu's longtime collaboration with screenwriter Kogo Noda. Finally scholar Junji Yoshida provides a liner notes essay.

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