Review: The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

The very title is evocative of Yasujiro Ozu’s style, interests, and attitude: in the simple but scarcely negligible pleasure of a most ordinary dish, the unpretentious character and self-integrity of the protagonist is defined, and by the end of the film his hifalutin spouse has come not only to accept but also to value him for that quality—and even to share, albeit timorously, his satisfaction in slurping audibly as he consumes the rice in the privacy of a late-night snack at home. The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice enjoyed its local premiere one recent summer afternoon thanks to a cultural studies program in the University of Washington’s Far East Department.

Made in 1952, a couple years after Late Spring and right before Tokyo Story, the film has acquired a certain reputation and indeed is more accessible to the casual observer than many Ozu films: uncharacteristically, the camera moves a good deal (at least it seemed a good deal for an Ozu film), although always straight in or straight out, never laterally or circuitously; the angle of vision is not invariably head-on, and the comic payoffs tend to come immediately after the possibility for them has been set up, rather than leaking out of the anecdote with the gradual inevitability so typical of the director’s most essential works. Indeed, a sense of inevitability is lacking from the movie, in the development and interaction of the characters. The movement toward self-knowledge and unflaunted acceptance of the nature of things, so powerful and discreet in masterpieces like I Was Born But ..., Late Spring, and Tokyo Story, seems more trivial here, more TV sitcom–like, as though a “situation” had been proposed, played for a few entertaining scenes, and tied off in time for the last commercial. But an Ozu sitcom is a more than worthwhile thing in itself, and the film abounds in minor pleasures: a scene at a northern spa where several wives, truant to the extent of taking a secret overnight holiday, watch the carp swimming in a pond and playfully characterize the fish in terms of their husbands; a nocturnal interlude in which the self-important wife has to discover where things are kept in her own kitchen; the genial, patient presence of Shin Saburi.

RTJ

THE FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE (Ochazuke no Aii)
Direction: Yasujiro Ozu. Screenplay: Ozu, Kogo Noda. Cinematography: Yuharu Atsuta.
The Players: Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure, Koji Tsuruta, Keiko Tsushima, Kuniko Miyake, Chikage Awashima, Chishu Ryu, Yuko Mochizuki.

Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson