Ochazuke no Aji

(The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, Japan 1952)

by Vanes Naldi
Cast: Chikage Awashima, Michiko Kugure, Ryu Chisyu, Yuko Mochizuki, Shin Saburi, Koji Tsuruta
Genre: Drama
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Cinematography: Yuharu Atsuta
Composer: Ichiro Saito
Runtime: 116 minutes

Yasujiro Ozu was one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but he never got the credit he deserved for many reasons. He was the most "Japanese" of the country's famous directors, the biggest traditionalist, thus his movies "weren't too marketable" because they catered mostly to Japanese culture, habits, & social behavior. Another reason he didn't get his due might be his style of directing, which is like slow motion with minimal movement from the actors but a lot of dialogue and facial expression.

The main theme Ozu's films portrayed was Japan's middle-class life and the many facets of it. His "static" point of view made him famous for the way he often used to shoot scenes, a minimalist approach to film making utilizing low angle shots. This ironically was one of the most acclaimed films he ever made from a commercial standpoint, but that still doesn't mean much. Several of Ozu's movies follow the same path; they have different characters and themes, but offer the same analysis on Japan's middle class and its background.

Ochazuke no aji explores marriage and its hurdles, with a subplot involving arranged marriages. Taeko is frustrated by her marriage with a steady businessman. She is tired of the continuity and repetitivity of her husband's job, of their bland relationship and its rules. She grows distant from her husband's lack of class and trivial habits, and talks about it with her friends. She has an argument with her husband over their niece Setsuko, who just walked out of her marriage because she felt uncomfortable with the rules of arranged marriages. Setsuko feels optimistic about love and wants to find the right man instead of someone who was "assigned" to her by social virtues. While Sadao is understanding and nice, Taeko is full of rage while trying to explain to his niece that what she did was wrong. Something eventually will make her understand that the most important thing about a husband is his reliability, not his class or demeanor, and their relationship will tie back together.

Due to the way he tells his stories, Ozu is a really difficult director to get into unless you're Japanese or understand their culture. There's no manipulation to make the plot more "Hollywood friendly." Actually, some people made the mistake of thinking his movies were "boring" and didn't accomplish anything because the actors almost never show emotions there's no action whatsoever, and 3/4 of his films are static shots of people speaking or eating at a table. That's a big mistake because the greatest thing about Ozu is the way he conveys Japanese culture, their way of life and the fact that the Japanese hide emotions as much as possible. It's a great visual, but very subtle, and not for everybody because it takes a great deal of time for the themes to emerge. They are not easy films to understand, even if this isn't the most difficult of Ozu's works, but they're a great tool to see the habits and many facets of life in middle-class post WWII Japan. A slow paced film with tremendous attention to characters and details that eventually becomes extremely fascinating.

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