The artistic path of the Japanese master  spreads over 35 years, from the latest period of silent cinema until 1962.  It’s the first time that I see ‘Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice‘ which belongs to the immediate post-war period in his career. Between 1947 and 1957 Ozu, back from the war and the army where he had spent seven years, made one film each year. A couple of them are considered among his masterpieces and among the best films ever made. It is not exactly the case with ’Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice‘ which has its flaws and shows signs of aging, but it’s still a remarkable movie from many points of view.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044982

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044982

 

Ozu wrote the first script of the film in 1939 and tried to push it through the Japanese Army cinema unit he was working with, but could not adapt it to the requests of censorship in times of war. Released 13 years later it belongs to the series of movies in which the director catches the process of transition that the Japanese society, its people and its institutions went through during the years after the defeat of Japan and during the American occupation. The external landscape is much changed, normality of peaceful, even comfortable life seem to be back, we see no visible signs of the destruction brought by war, and there is only one scene in which the main hero meets with a former army comrade which does not look too traumatic, neither too different from similar scenes that would have been done in other countries after WWII. The changes are at the level of the basic components of the society. While at the work place the working methods and technology have embraced some Western characteristics, the hierarchy and the paternalistic approach continue to dominate the work relations. The family keeps the male-dominated structure, but under the surface there is a revolution under way in what concerns the role of women. Two generations are being presented in the story on screen. The elder one still tries to keep the appearances and cheats the old way. The younger one would not accept the old ways and traditions including the arrangements of marriages. The crisis of the family in the two generations under the pressure of changes around is the main topic of the film.

 

(video source SocraticTruths)

 

The style of Ozu’s story telling and film making is present and easily identifiable. Camera barely moves if at all, and each scene is a composition with the characters moving in elaborate sets which are a pleasure to enjoy visually. Much of the action takes place in the home of the mid-upper class heroes couple, and Ozu has no equal in filming inside the house with camera placed lower than most other directors locate it, in order to create the feeling of intimacy and the perspective of the inhabitants of the Japanese houses. His selection of actors includes in the role of the apparently dull hard-working husband whose hidden secrets and deep humanity is gradually revealed and  as the wife (I liked less her interpretation). The ending is a combination of a great idea with the main reason why this film partly fails. On one side the idea of the family reconciliation through traditional food (rice) and tea is bright, and Ozu opens here a path in the Japanese and Far East cinema that will be followed and will reach exceptional achievements in the works of other film makers many years and even decades later. Unfortunately, this beautiful and sensible scene is followed by a badly scripted dialog in which the wife explains to her friends the reasons of the reconciliation. The conclusion seems both very conventional and unjustifiable submissive from the feminine perspective, and the way it is being told is also surprisingly bad cinema for a film by Ozu. Luckily there is one more final scene, showing the younger couple, which opens the gate for the future and the feeling that transformation is on its way and is nothing but unstoppable. Even the fix camera perspective is abandoned in this final sequence. The continuation however, belongs to another movie.