Saturday, June 30, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)

As I wrote last month when I reviewed the new documentary IN SEARCH OF OZU (2018), I've been trying out the FilmStruck streaming service.

FilmStruck appeals to me because it has classic film content not currently available elsewhere, such as the aforementioned Ozu documentary and a number of "not on Region 1 DVD" titles from the great Japanese director.

One of those films is FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE (1952), known in Japan as OCHAZUKE NO AJI. Though I own some other Ozu films which I've yet to see, I've been particularly wanting to see this one simply because the title is so intriguing, and happily I was able to watch it on FilmStruck.

It's a bit different from other Ozu films I've seen, focusing more on the intricacies of a marriage than on other aspects of family life. The frequent Ozu theme of a young girl being pressured by her family to become engaged is here, but it's not the main story.

Mokichi Satake (Shin Saburi) and his wife Taeko (Michiyo Kogure) have been married some years. They're quite financially comfortable thanks to Taeko's wealthy family and Mokichi's job as an executive; indeed, their home is considerably larger than seen in other Ozu films, and they can afford a servant to do the cooking and other chores.

The couple have no children and their marriage has fallen into something of a rut; Taeko is often petulant and silly, doing things like lying to her husband about spending a day at a resort with relatives, when the easy-going man would doubtless have no problem with the truth. Taeko is also impatient with some of her husband's habits, which reflect his lower-class upbringing. She refers to him as "obtuse," but the reality is he seems quite observant about many things, choosing instead to hold his own counsel.

Taeko's niece Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) is being pressured to meet a gentleman with marriage in mind, but she's dubious about whether she wants to marry, seeing as how Taeko doesn't seem happy. And besides, she'd rather spend time with her uncle's friend Noboru, also called "Non-chan" (Koji Tsuruta), a nice guy she feels comfortable with.

Mokichi and Taeko finally clash spectacularly, which in a gentle Ozu film means she takes a train ride out of town in a huff, not realizing that her husband is about to be sent to Uruguay on business. The question for the last section of the film is whether Mokichi and Taeko will be able to rebuild their relationship.

Like every other Ozu film I've seen to date, this is a wonderful movie. There's not a moment wasted in the film's 115-minute running time. Michiko Kogure was a new face for me, but the rest of the cast is filled with familiar actors from other Ozu films, including Kuniko Miyake and the ever-present Chishu Ryu.

Shin Saburi of EQUINOX FLOWER (1958) is front and center in this film. I like him tremendously as the long-suffering husband who tells his wife not to worry and apologizes even when it's clear she's being unfair. He and Kogure, in the last main sequence of the film, are simply marvelous, in a sequence which reminded me a bit of the best, final kitchen scene in BIG NIGHT (1996).

One of the constant themes of Ozu's films is the Westernization of Japan, and it's particularly fascinating here. While Setsuko and others wear nothing but Western dress, Taeko only wears traditional Japanese styles -- but what's fascinating is when she retreats to her upstairs bedroom and the door opens to a Western-style room which would fit in any English country house, with chintz-covered chairs and a bed. It's clear that Mokichi, meanwhile, continues to sleep on the floor in Japanese fashion, as we see the maid (Yoko Kosono) lay out his bed in the evening.

Other aspects of Westernization appear when several characters attend a baseball game, and signs at Mokichi's business are in both Japanese and English. A can of Wesson Oil is spotted in the Satake kitchen, and so on. Looking for these touches in a film released just seven years after the end of World War II is both interesting and enlightening.

Films periodically rotate on and off the FilmStruck service, so anyone hoping to see this film via FilmStruck should not delay. Since it's showing on FilmStruck's "Criterion Channel," hopefully in the future it will also have a Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release in the U.S.

Like every other Ozu film I've seen to date, this movie is very much recommended viewing.

Previously reviewed Ozu films: LATE SPRING (1949), EARLY SUMMER (1951), TOKYO STORY (1953), EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), GOOD MORNING (1959), LATE AUTUMN (1960), and THE END OF SUMMER (1961).


Blogger Lee R said...

Wow, I envy you seeing another Ozu film from the '50's, wish it were out on DVD as I'd like to see this one. But maybe, like you said, Criterion will soon release it. It seems they should since it's part of their "Criterion Collection" so what else could this mean?
For an Italian classic that's both funny and a bit sad watch another Criterion release "Il Sorpasso". Maybe it's on that site you're subscribed to and you won't have to buy the DVD as I did. I first saw it on TCM, it was so good I bought the Criterion DVD. Fun movie with great scenes and funny dialog.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Ana Roland said...

Loved IL SORPASSO. The same for me . I saw it on TCM & had to own it. Somehow I don't think it will be Laura's cup of tea....It is one of the most popular films in Italy & shown every New Year's on Italian TV.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you both, Lee and Ana, for your comments!

Lee, there are more not-on-DVD Ozu films on FilmStruck, I think all from the '30s and '40s. I hope to watch another one this week.

I'm not familiar with IL SORPASSO, thank you both for the feedback! Always interested to learn more about unseen movies.

Best wishes,

9:31 AM  

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