[Film Review] Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)

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English Title: Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
Original Title: Ochazuke no aji
Year: 1952
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Drama
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Writers: Kôgo Noda, Yasujirô Ozu
Music: Ichirô Saitô
Cinematography: Yûharu Atsuta
Cast:
Michiyo Kogure
Shin Saburi
Keiko Tsushima
Kôji Tsuruta
Chikage Awashima
Chishû Ryû
Kuniko Miyake
Yôko Kosono
Yoko Osakura
Eijirô Yanagi
Hisao Toake
Rating: 7.7/10

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You can always bank on an Ozu movie as the bread of life whenever one feels down in the mouth, FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE, not among his most canonical works, still can leave audience absorbed in its rational narratology.

In the center of the story is Tokyo-inhabiting married couple Mokichi and Taeko Satake (Saburi and Kogure), but the narrative frequently bifurcates between them when both discretely hang out with their same-sex friends. Taeko fabricates white lies to go to a spa with her lady friends, whereas, Mokichi, an executive in an engineering company, mostly spends his off-duty time with a younger male friend Noboru (Tsuruta), tippling and playing in a Pachinoko parlor, owned by his former comrade-in-arms Sadao (Ryû).

Shortly we are apprised that their passionless union is the fruit of an arranged marriage, on which, the couple holds different views, Mokichi considers it a mistake, but Taeko thinks otherwise, although she habitually belittles the unadventurous, unromantic Mokichi, as long as she can always have her way, she has no regret of choosing living on the easy street, and now she has taken it on herself to persuade her niece Setsuko (Tsushima) into a similar nuptial arrangement, but regarding her auntie’s marriage as a counterexample, Setsuko recalcitrantly spurns this archaic customs, and Mokichi’s half-ass gesture only further exasperates Taeko, she leaves in a huff, but a misty-eyed satori arrives when she returns, realizes the emptiness occasioned by the absence of someone she has wished would take a long trip. Her wish is granted, but any sense of gratification or emancipation is unforthcoming.

Taeko’s expiation is timely actualized by a deus ex machina (an airliner’s malfunctioned engine), and the pair finally has a touching tête-à-tête to iron things out, over a late-night repast of green tea over rice (Ozu patiently attends to the minutiae of its preparation, and it is also funny since the kitchen is not their usual haunt), Mokichi’s honest-to-good temperament, and his enjoyment of simple pleasure, might not be appealing a priori, yet, at the end of the day, that kind of man is a real keeper, even without amorous passion as the ballast, a tacit understanding is what holds a marriage firmly together, not elation, but a rewording resignation is the hard-won lesson to an overbearing Taeko.

However sagacious and well-meaning, Ozu’s keynote cannot shuck off a problematic air of mansplaining according to today’s moral prism, that said, the ensemble cast comes to the defense, Michiyo Kogure plays up to Taeko’s volatility convincingly, and keeps her swelling pique palpably seething; Shin Saburi, on the other hand, whose henpecked indulgence subtly betrays a philosophical insouciance without losing Mokichi’s avuncular amenity and politesse.

Keiko Tsushima and Kôji Tsuruta are vibrant exemplars of brighter young things from a newer generation, the former’s Setsuko has no qualm about confronting her elders and the latter’s Noboru is equipped with an instinct savvy that makes him more eligible than button-down goody-goodies. Also, Chikage Awashima expressively fine-tunes with both amicable and stern facades as Aya, Taeko’s best friend, whose own arranged marriage is hinted with more folly and frustration.

Prim and proper, FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE is Ozu’s salutary counsel on marriage, a meticulously fabricated urban symphony also gives magnificent glimpse of Japan’s booming post-WWII cityscape and shifting mentality, a boon in every sense of the word.

referential entries: Ozu’s EARLY SUMMER (1951, 8.6/10), TOKYO STORY (1953, 9.1/10).

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