Katsuhito Ishii’s third Japanese feature “The Taste of Tea,” made in 2004, is a trippy tribute to the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, who had memorable films like “Tokyo Story”, “ Late Spring”, “ I was born but”, “the only son”, “ The Early Summer” and many remarkable ones. The film has been referred to as a surreal version of Ingmar Bergman’s ”Fanny and Alexander”. Quiet to an ease is pronounced in Japanese as “Cha no Aji”. The film won several accolade the best Asian film award in 2005 and the grand prix at Entrevues film festival
You get to watch the delight of Japanese quaintness, in its extraordinary float, the film has its strange incidents, quirky characters, and mixed metaphors just keep coming. The imagination of director Katsuhito Ishii seems inexhaustible. The film is set in North of Tokyo province of rural Tochigi Prefecture. The story revolves around the Haruno family. The movie is a family portrait as painted by a moderately demented Cubist.
Through a series of essays that are sometimes linked, sometimes not, we get to know the Harunos clan, who live quietly in the Japanese countryside. The Harunos lives in a comfortable house surrounded by rice fields. Mom (Satomi Tezuka) is a freelance animation artist. Dad (Tomokazu Miura) is a hypnotherapist. Teenage Hajime (Takahiro Sato) races back and forth from school on his bike suffering the joys and pains of his first intense schoolboy crush. The most emotionally interesting Hajime has a knack for being a bystander during strange interludes. (Two people dressed in cartoonish space gear board a train he is on; in a restaurant, the couple across from him discuss whether the woman should have her breasts enlarged.).
The most visually interesting is little Sachiko (Maya Banno), sister of Hajime, her problems are stranger. This six years kid sees a giant version of herself is followed by her, which she thinks she can get rid of it only she can manage to do a back flip on the horizontal bar at an abandoned playground. Apparently, were as it turns out, she witnesses a not-quite-dead yakuza victim digging himself out of his own grave. But that’s another story.
Rounding out the group is Grandpa (Tatsuya Gashuin), an artist and would-be singer with Einstein hair who likes to listen to a tuning fork and strike martial-arts poses. The scene alter on the arrival of Mom’s brother, the very cool and very relaxed Uncle Ayano (Tadanobu Asano), who works as a sound mixer in the city but has come out to the sticks to clear his head and maybe reconnect with his long lost love. When he’s not stretched out on the floor taking a nap, he regales the kids with bizarre stories of his childhood which they gobble up, at least until they’re distracted by their own problems.
Teenage Hajime takes up the board game of Go when he finds out his crush is in the Go club. Here’s the most remarkable cinematic moments of the scene of Hajime speeding through the field on his bike and ecstatically screaming ‘Go club’, ‘Go club’ making the whole floor sway and lingers those joyous is visually eye-catching.
Meanwhile, Mom’s anime employer, another relative, gets it in his head to record a song called “Mountain” (“Yama” in Japanese.) The lyrics of “Yama yama yama yama” takes up a peppy beat as we see Grandpa volunteers to sing along, so much so they head off to the city hoping that Uncle Ayano to record it for him, so he does, along with a truly vivacious music video to go with it.
So the lives of Harunos go on and in a way the film captures the Japanese rural backdrop and the domestic life are well depicted. Many critics point out that the film needs lots of patience to watch, though once you are inclined to those humble moments and the characters bring so much of life, of course it’s thought-provoking and the sight that speaks to the underlying theme. “The Taste of Tea” touch is more serious and insightful than anyone expect. The audience ascent to an expansive mode and to the core, the director is in no hurry to roll this out- — in one scene; the camera follows Hajime as the bicycles seemingly halfway across Japan. But a description someone gives of a song involved in one of the film’s many detours neatly summarizes the movie itself, believe me this is more cool than unusual, and it stays in your head for sure.
Maybe so, but that’s just one of many, many layers to this sweet-natured comedy, which just keeps on lumbering along until its innumerable plot threads start to tie together in time for a poignant finale that features, among other things, a sunflower that blossoms to the size of a galaxy. Definably has a heart behind “The Taste of Tea” in its pure pleasure, poetic, beautiful and moving all in one small moment. Pour yourself some green tea, and take it all in. Cue cheers from the audience
- Writer & Director: Katsuhito Ishii
- Producer: Hilo Iizumi, Kazuto Takida, Kazutoshi Wadakura
- Starring Tadanobu Asano; Takahiro Sato; Maya Banno; Satomi Tezuka & Tomokazu Miura & Tatsuya
- Cinematographer: Kosuke Matsushima
- Release Date: July 17, 2004
- Runtime: 143 min.
- Production Company: Aoi Promotion
- Distributor: Klock Worx
- Language: Japanese
- Country: Japan