Review: The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice – Ochazuke no aji (1952)

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The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice – Ochazuke no aji (1952)

Directed by: Yasujirô Ozu | 115 minutes | drama | Actors: Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure, Kôji Tsuruta, Chishû Ryû, Chikage Awashima, Keiko Tsushima, Kuniko Miyake, Eijirô Yanagi, Hisao Toake, Yûko Mochizuki, Kôji Shitara, Matsuko Shiga, Yôko Kosono, Kinichi Ishikawa

It is a well-known fact: the small things that you initially find endearing or special in your loved one, they will annoy you – once the butterflies have settled down. What would it be like in an arranged marriage like that of Taeko (Michiyo Kogure) and Mokichi (Shin Saburi)? In ‘The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice’, master filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu lets us experience the marriage of these two people. It is a marriage in decline. No kids to raise, why would this couple still be together?

Taeko doesn’t think much of her husband (anymore). She jokingly calls him Mr. Bony Bonehead, but there’s more to it than her giggling friends realize. Taeko is the refined type: she quickly feels too good for anything. She doesn’t do the housework, she has staff for that, her bedroom (separate from Mokichi’s) has a western decor, but she herself still wears traditional Japanese clothing. There has been no question of an equal relationship for a long time. In order to do what she feels like (visiting a wellness center, for example), Taeko makes up complicated lies, such as having to help her niece Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) because she has a stomachache. Not much later, the young woman used for her lie happily walks in, there is nothing wrong with it. Taeko doesn’t know how to justify her invention and quickly waltzes over it. She assumes that her ‘stupid’ husband does not see through her after all, but Mokichi is not that stupid.

It is in these scenes that Ozu’s humorous script comes into its own. The scheming of the women is funny and sad at the same time. You can sense that Taeko’s behavior is not right and when we get to know Mokichi well in later scenes, we realize that he definitely deserves the viewer’s sympathy. Too bad his wife doesn’t appreciate him. One evening, Mokichi enjoys a simple dish at home, ochazuke – rice with green tea. He tries to explain to Taeko, who is literally disgusted by this, that it reminds him of his origins and that he derives his identity from this. He likes the simple things in life: sometimes a third class train ticket is enough, the cheapest cigarettes happen to be his favourite, but she doesn’t understand him and doesn’t want to understand him.

It remains to be seen who is the most unhappy in this arranged marriage. Both spouses try to make something of their lives, each in their own way. In a subplot we follow the younger Setsuko, who wants to avoid ending up in an arranged marriage. Despite her own bad experience, Taeko pushes her niece to do just this. Setsuko’s role in the fate of her aunt and uncle’s marriage is more important than you might initially think.

‘The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice’ is a melancholic and at times funny portrait of two gloomy people. In addition, it gives a beautiful picture of the time of Japan after the Second World War (the trams in Tokyo, the pachinko arcade, the baseball stadium). The finale is moving and makes us realize that marital happiness mainly consists of understanding and respecting each other.

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