The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952)
(The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice, Yasujiro Ozu, 1952.)
Today is the first day of JFF Plus: Online Festival for Australia. This is the first time the Japanese Film Festival is being run online due to fears about corona. and it has meant that I finally can (legally) watch The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952). However, I can only do it today due to their licensing limitations. The film is directed by Yasujiro Ozu, possibly Japan's greatest and most recognised film directors. His films have been viewed and venerated by many of the most acclaimed American film directors of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Even now, text books on films will often include notes about Ozu's composition and tracking. So, I wanted to make the most of my viewing of this film. I made sure I was ready with food and drinks and went to the bathroom before I began. I even got myself a pot of green tea to drink as I watched it, to make the experience more complete. The title of the film takes its name from a fairly staple savoury Japanese dish, Ochazuke, which you can see a recipe of here. It seems to be simple in composition and is described as very comforting. So, when we begin the film, the context we should feel is one of a very soft, easily digested dish that a loving mother might make for her child, or someone sick very tired might pull together as a quick easy meal.
(A picture of Ochazuke borrowed from justonecookbook.com.) (2020)
I found I had arrived very early for the screening, so I decided to put together my own ochazuke using leftovers and various Japanese condiments I had in the house. Since I used a vegetarian chicken replacement instead of salmon and shichimitogarashi instead of bonito flakes. This I used overzealously, so it had a lot of burn. But I found it was indeed a very simple, comforting sort of dish, precisely because it is so wonderfully prosaic, and I could season it to my own tastes as I went. This deepened my sense of why the film had the title it had.
Firstly, the film itself has a very slow, very calming pace. This is not the sort of movie where you will see cars exploding or people on fire. It's a simple story about the flaws and merits of marriage. But it's also the chance to see a bygone era of Tokyo. If you know Tokyo at all, you'll know from the first scene that this is where the film is situated, since the Imperial Palace has remained the same all these years. But you get to see many other structures and parts of the Tokyo landscape that are now gone.
The film is steeped in 50s Japanese fashion, with at least one kimono of the period appearing in each scene. But far from being a simple cry for traditionalism, the film also speaks to modernity. The plot follows the niece of a family who is set to marry someone, but she doesn't want to go through with it. So, her emotionally constipated Aunt and her other relatives try to persuade her. But her own Aunt and other female relatives are already in loveless or restrictive marriages. The Aunt is a very challenging character to watch, as she is the only character in the film who openly shows shrill or critical facial expressions throughout the film. It makes the ending all the more satisfying, and I don't want to spoil it for you. Watching the film, I also acquired a greater appreciation for Yasujiro Ozu's directing style. He often uses doors, walls and other architectural features to beautifully frame his scenes. The characters are often framed as though they are character cards, almost as though each shot where they are depicted is a kind of cameo of their character in the moment. So, for someone wanting to experience Japan in the 50s, and to see some of the greatest film work in Japanese history, This is a film I can recommend. Just make sure to bring some green tea over rice with you.
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