Yasujiro Ozu was a contemporary of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, but is much less famous in the West because instead of making epic, stereotype-enforcing samurai movies, he focused on more low-key, domestic stories. The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (Ochazuke no Aji) is a great example of the one of his early comedies that provides an intimate insight Japanese society. It’s a cute story about a wife, Taeko, and husband, Mokichi, who don’t seem to get on. She is a shrewish snob who lies to get her way, he is a complacent bumpkin who likes the simple things in life.
It’s set in the post war period, a time of great social upheaval in Japan which informs much of the inter-generational conflict in Ozu’s movies. The couple’s niece, Setsuko, seeing how unhappy they seem together, refuses to follow in their footsteps and enter into an arranged marriage. But as the story progresses, the layers are peeled away from the Taeko and Mokichi and it becomes clear that the way they feel towards each other is a lot more complicated than it appears from the outside. The movie culminates in an incredibly sweet domestic scene that makes this one of the most original love stories I’ve seen in years.
Funny and wise, The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice is well worth chasing down online or at your local library. Recommended.