The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)

There is nothing like a pleasant surprise. Tonight, for me, The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is just that.

Centered around an arranged marriage that has not exactly fallen into place, this social satire from director Yasujiro Ozu focuses on Taeko, a snobby wife, and Mokichi, her unsophisticated husband. While he slaves away at work she spends time with the girls going to spas and finding excuses to sneak away for the weekend. Mokichi is not totally ignorant of her schemes or the fact that their marriage is a mismatch. When a younger cousin says that she objects to the practice of arranged marriages Mokichi sympathizes with the young girl while he attempts to make his own marriage work.

More moving than Ozu’s other films, in the sense that camera is not so rigidly locked down and because Ozu takes his camera to active environments such as the bicycle races and baseball games, The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice seems atypical for the rather frugal director. However, at heart – where Ozu’s films work best- The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is yet another shining example of what makes Ozu a master of cinema. Never flashy or ostentatious Ozu’s lively camera work never overpowers the emotional pangs that turn this light-hearted comedy into a contemplative drama.

Towards the end of the picture Ozu stops the storyline to dwell on a kitchen scene where Maeko and Mokichi stumble into their kitchen to make themselves a late night snack. With the house help turned in or sent home for the evening, the two clumsily search about for a bite to eat. Shot in real time, their domestic actions serve, as a new starting point for a couple that must begin their relationship anew if they hope to resolve their marital conflicts. Like two people meeting one another for the first time there is a quiet air of uneasiness that falls between their every move. The scene is highly reminiscent of the a scene from John Cassavetes’s Love Streams or final images in A Woman Under The Influence, two pictures shot many years after Ozu’s Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, but a scene that is much fresher in my memory. Whether it is something personal or universal about a couple in a kitchen attempting to rebuild their relationship I am not sure, but for some mysterious reason a particular chemistry happens to occur late at night in cinematic kitchens.

Though I remembered seeing The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice many years ago, my memory was foggy and only the storyline remained. Tonight, I am surprised at how emotionally overwhelming the film is. To say it has instantly become my favorite Ozu feature may be a hasty call, but there is something in the air tonight that leaves me feeling as if I will never see a finer film. It is a pleasant surprise, for sure.

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