Title: Flavor of Green Tea over Rice
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Cast: Michiyo Kogure, Shin Saburi, Kôji Tsuruta, Chikage Awashima, Keiko Tsushima
Synopsis: Mokichi (Saburi) and Taeko (Kogure) are in the throes of an unhappy marriage. Their niece, Setsuko, sees how unhappy they are and does her best to avoid arranged marriage meetings in the hopes of finding a suitor on her own terms.
Critique: Most of the time, when you say, “in the director’s typical fashion,” it sounds reductive or condescending but, of course, there are some exceptions where a director’s recurring trademarks are embraced time and again. Flavor of Green Tea over Rice features all the themes we’d associate with an Ozu movie; marriage, growing pains, aging, familial discord and, of course, reconciliation.
And, in the director’s typical fashion, the narrative is a vehicle to explore generational discord while reflecting Japan’s ever-changing cultural mores. And yet, Ozu’s subtle discipline and keen emotional awareness make it all so fluent.
Flavor of Green Tea over Rice is a movie where people tell white lies and dish out little fibs to get out of social obligations or merely get their way. Setsuko (played wonderfully by Keiko Tsushima) uses her aunt and uncle’s relative unhappiness as a springboard for shirking arranged marriage meetings. We can sympathize with her as well as her means of justification; but are we tasked with moral quandaries such as justification or what’s right or wrong? Ozu seems more inclined to create characters who come to an understated realization rather than engage with us directly, which is why he’s the venerated soft-spoken humanist of cinema. Leading up to Tokyo Story, Flavor of Green Tea over Rice feels like the underrated preamble that deserves the attention and acclaim the later film has received.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: At this point in time, it’s odd to think that a significant Ozu film hasn’t received a Criterion release. The volume of Ozu is one of the reasons why The Criterion Collection maintains such high prestige among the film community. Alongside the likes of Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, Ozu is a defining feature in the Collection. Flavor of Green Tea over Rice is available through international distributors and multi-region DVDs. It’s only a matter of time before it gets a spine number.