The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
June 16th 2023

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is a domestic drama propelled by the tensions between men and women, the young and the old, and modernity and tradition—which is to say, it’s a Yasujirō Ozu film. Though it is undoubtedly a variation on the director’s favorite themes (lacking only Ozu’s frequent muse, Setsuko Hara), Green Tea is also, like the dish described in its title, a simple, nourishing, and surprisingly delectable part of Ozu’s mighty oeuvre.

Young and unmarried, Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) is “at the best age,” though she frequently tags along with her older aunt Taeko (Michiyo Kogure) and Taeko’s married friends. One day, the group decides to have a girls’ night at a spa; to pull off the trip, Taeko tells her husband a barely believable lie about needing to attend to a friend who’s suddenly come down with appendicitis. Once at the spa, Taeko is moody, complaining her husband is dense enough (or indifferent enough) to fall for her deceptions, and mockingly dubs him “Mr. Bonehead.” When they return from the trip, Setsuko—fending off plans for her own arranged marriage—bickers with her aunt about how she spoke about her uncle. “I’d never bad-mouth my husband,” Setsuko insists naïvely.

Taeko’s husband, Mokichi (Shin Saburi), is a veteran-turned-salary-man who partakes in his own light deceptions, visiting bars, Pachinko parlors, and bicycle races with his younger colleague Non-chan (Kōji Tsuruta) while letting his wife believe he’s out with clients. But Setsuko, in avoidance of a kabuki theater date with a suitor, decides to tag along one evening with the men, an act that ultimately forces Mokichi and Taeko to confront their festering disconnect.

Green Tea is an exemplar of Ozu’s mid-period work: in addition to its domestic themes, the film is full of the director’s signature direct-to-camera line deliveries, his use of doorways and corridors in framing, and his unfussy cuts (it is, however, the rare Ozu film that sparingly uses tracking shots). But one should not mistake Green Tea’s relative simplicity for simplemindedness; though Taeko’s revelation that “women only know their husbands at home” might seem pat, the diametric tensions that so bedeviled Ozu over the course of his career are not so easily resolved. He’d revisit them again and again—though Green Tea remains a flavor all its own.

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice screens tonight, June 16, on 35mm at Film Forum as part of their Ozu retrospective. It will also screen in a new digital restoration this afternoon, and on June 17 and 21.