989 The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Michael Kerpan
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Re: 989 The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

#26 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun May 19, 2019 12:27 pm

I think Schrader had an unfortunate (but mostly temporary) impact on Richie's view of Ozu (which was, alas, "immortalized" in his book on Ozu).

My most important Ozu resources were the books of Bordwell and Hasumi (alas, no English version -- just Japanese and French).

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Re: 989 The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

#27 Post by yoloswegmaster » Sun May 19, 2019 12:39 pm

Does anyone know if the version on the Criterion Channel is from the 4K restoration or from an older source?

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Re: 989 The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

#28 Post by FrauBlucher » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:24 pm

Beaver...even Gary's captures suggest how good this is going to look

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Re: 989 The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

#29 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Sep 13, 2019 11:42 pm

This was absolutely fantastic and a strong candidate for my favorite Ozu. While I’m admittedly not his biggest fan, I tend to prefer Ozu at his more playful, and thought this was an excellent exercise middling between his domestic dramas and his humorous side (the most extreme example being Good Morning). While this film is not in the latter’s wheelhouse (its humor is in line with screwball elements as people have mentioned, but also more colorful examples of observational social commentary), it does strike a balance that reveals Ozu’s patient, meditative, and perceptive strengths even compared to his other work. The film contains many accentuated traits of Ozu’s canon, with more intensely audacious characters making brash comments against cultural norms like marriage outside the family system while continuing to observe the etiquette of such norms with the system. Ozu is more flashy in his juxtaposition here, and the manipulation through deceit for the sake of preserving norms and limiting honest communication is a biting commentary that’s both humorous and sad.

Many scenes exist that contain both emotions together, such as a moment where an older wife asks her friend on the phone, “who else should I say is sick?” trying to repeat the same plan after a foiled plot to lie to her husband falls through. This act is quite hilarious after the elaborate setup, but the subsequent look of fear from the younger woman eavesdropping as she asks, “who’s sick?” with pained worry and deep pathos is one of many seamless transitions across contrasting vibes that works so well. A similar scene involves the husband running into an old war buddy and dining with him. It’s a funny scene for the idiosyncratic tics in Chishū Ryū’s performance (a smaller role than usual but absolutely excellent) that slowly descends into somber singing that brings back painful nostalgia and uproots the comfort of complacency in social constructions the husband has grown to bar himself from that unease, if only for a moment. One only needs to get a brief glimpse of each man’s face to feel the weight of the transition, a strength in the form not many filmmakers possess.

I appreciated seeing events from multiple perspectives with a less distinct angle as vantage point, creating a very full milieu in forming eclectic social contexts that draw differing shades of the same themes, as if Ozu decided to make a film like the Nashvilles to come, albeit on a smaller scale and with more narrative grounding. Despite focusing strongly on the drama this is a very fun and funny film, with little anecdotal scenes such as the banter of the three wives at a baseball game spying on a husband absolutely sublime. There is also an innocence and optimism present in both the young woman and the older husband, undoing pigeonholing of generational mores present in some of Ozu’s other works and lending itself towards universal positivity in intent, moral virtue, and humanism. As usual, Ozu takes his time and space in allowing us, and his characters, to process each of these emotional responses that arise. It’s a quick pace for Ozu, but no element feels shortchanged for the sake of the action.

Ozu’s form is curiously also flourishing here in new ways, with some interesting push-in and out, mini-tracking shots spliced into the steady unmoving camera we are accustomed to getting from the auteur. These slight movements clearly signify something, at times an introspective venture into the individual’s experience, as they often occur during a transition from one character to another, catapulting a new perspective to the expansive milieu, which is less a single story and more of a composite of interacting systems, large and small. When the camera pulls out, we often feel displaced and alone, but when it draws us in we become invited in to the character in the frame. However, sometimes these movements occur over unoccupied space in the main couple’s home. Towards the end we get a pan-out after the wife lies in bed alone, and then we actually go back to her! The emptiness of the space could signal loneliness and alienation, even meaninglessness, but I believe it serves to highlight the space of possibilities and opportunities ignored in the physical and emotional space that serves as the place for physical co-existence and spiritual connectivity. That the subsequent scene is the ‘screwball’ one others have mentioned where the couple does finally take advantage of these opportunities and move around together in the space reveals this accentuated space as both magical and real, a tangible and metaphorical area for unions to form (just as they disintegrated there) depending on the energy each brings to the table. The shots of the dark room empty of energy become light and populated with lively movement, as does the energy between the couple.

Overall I found this far more engaging than most of his body of work in part because of the range of moods Ozu delivers, weaving their way through the narrative without feeling forced or jarring. The natural collage of experience begets a true picture of life only possible in the movies where we are given the opportunity to not just explore but sit with the real flexibility in emotion and relativist ethical lines that populate most of our actual experiences. By offering a variety of viewpoints Ozu can achieve a comprehensive summary of socialization across generational, socioeconomic, and gender lines that allows for more diverse revelations on the spectrum of comedy to drama. While this is, I think, his most existentially rich film, it's also a surprisingly light and comfortable palette, not afraid to hit strikingly real areas of intrapersonal crises attempting to forge harmony with designated roles, as well as interpersonal and systemic cultural dynamics, but in a way that goes down smooth because despite inherent struggles and some cynical lenses presented, the film ultimately exposes a present-focused, mindful celebration of life, in all of its complex and simple offerings, and reveals the simple to be a lot more flavorful than expected. What a grateful film about the difficult yet beautiful and rewarding process of finding, accepting, and holding onto gratitude.

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