JAPAN 2021

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice

Japan 1952, 115 mins
Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Well into the master’s post-war golden age, this often overlooked shoshimin-eiga (contemporary domestic drama) explores once again the generational divide Ozu was so interested in. A typically precise, almost Chekhovian screenplay, co-written as always with Kogo Noda, dissects a traditional marriage, which is fraying silently in the conflict between omiai (‘arranged’ marriage, as translated here) and modern sensibilities.

Keiko Tsushima is the errant niece who rebels against the matchmaking, a dilemma confronted mostly by her aunt and uncle (Michiyo Kogure and Shin Saburi), whose own childless arranged union is marked by spite, lies, bullying and avoidance. In a rich and organic interweaving of supporting voices and perspectives, the primary dramatic crisis comes down to weighty silences and suddenly empty rooms – always Ozu’s most resonant visual flourish – but tied into the gender war are eloquent critiques of the Japanese bourgeoisie (even the marriage in question boils down to class difference) and of the modern era’s loss of respect and meaning.

Of course, Ozu leavens the dynamic with ambivalence, understanding and grey regions of doubt, and the ending reaches an awkward state of happy/sad we may feel within our rights to doubt, but the master’s steady gaze alone can absolve us from cynicism.
Michael Atkinson, Sight & Sound, Summer 2020

‘I took this script out of storage where it had been since it was censored by the Army, because there was no reason for it to stay there. In the original version the main character departs for the war. But because times had changed, I rewrote it so that he departed for South America. But this weakened the dramatic development. I just wanted to reveal some qualities of a man from the viewpoint of a woman, such as a man being good-looking or having good taste.’ – Ozu on Ozu, from Cinema

Ozu did not seem to be very fond of this film which is surprising for, although a little rambling and anecdotal and lacking the final impact of the best of the 50s films, it is one of his funniest and most easily enjoyable works. Many of the themes touched on reach back to the 1937 film What Did the Lady Forget?, especially in regard to the rather snobbish wife and the easy-going husband (beautifully played by Shin Saburi), and the earlier film’s domestic squabbles are wittily re-created and enriched in the equivalent scenes here. The clandestine gathering of the wives at the spa near the beginning is one of Ozu’s sunniest scenes, as they all begin to get a little tipsy and start comparing their husbands with the swimming carp in the pond outside. Ozu’s critical attitude to arranged marriages is also evident in the perky portrait of the young girl who feels torn between the old obligations and her own inclinations. It is also particularly rich in dialogue exchanges (as far as translated subtitles will allow), with a plethora of little verbal jokes and those marvellously timed moments when a single remark or the sudden re-appearance of a character totally reverses what the audience (and the other characters) expects.
John Gillett, National Film Theatre programme notes

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
©: Shochiku Co. Ltd.
Production Company: Shochiku Co. Ltd.
Producer: Takeshi Yamamoto
Assistant: Shohei Imamura *
Assistant Director: Kozo Yamamoto
Screenplay: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Director of Photography: Yuharu Atsuta
Lighting: Itsuo Takashita
Camera Assistant: Takashi Kawamata
Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Art Director: Tatsuo Hamada
Music: Ichirô Saitô
Sound Recording: Yoshisaburo Senoo
Studio: Shochiku Ofuna

Shin Saburi (Mokichi Satake)
Michiyo Kogure (Taeko)
Koji Tsuruta (Noboru)
Chishu Ryu (Sadao Hirayama)
Chikage Awashima (Aya Amamiya)
Keiko Tsushima (Setsuko)
Kuniko Miyake
Eijirô Yanagi
Hisao Toake
Yûko Mochizuki
Koji Shitara
Mie Kitahara
Toshinosuke Nagao

Japan 1952©
115 mins

* Uncredited

Supported by

In partnership wtih

With special thanks to

With the kind support of:
Janus Films/The Criterion Collection, Kadokawa Corporation, Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Kokusai Hoei Co. Ltd, Nikkatsu Corporation, Toei Co. Ltd

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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