The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice review – Ozu’s bittersweet triumph

This portrait of married middle age is deliciously flavoured with mystery and melancholy

The flavour is that of ochazuke, green tea poured over rice: it’s a classic, simple, unassuming taste that, for the married couple in Yasujiro Ozu’s drama, is to be a happy-sad epiphany. This is the taste of marriage itself, a taste of sublime humility and simplicity, which wise souls will prefer to flashier dishes – and also to the husband’s more sloppy bachelor-like taste for soup poured over rice, which he has been indulging when his wife isn’t around. Yet she concedes her angry scolding of him for this is wrong, too, and the green tea over rice is their gentle compromise. It’s a savour of mystery and melancholy.

If Ozu, like Shakespeare, has a “problem” genre, then his 1952 film (rereleased as part of the BFI’s Japan 2020 season) falls into it. This is a sentimental comedy of married middle age with dashes of sadness and anger, and, as so often in Ozu, heartbreakingly reticent hints that the people involved have not got over the second world war. There are intriguingly odd plot contortions and grave symbolic gestures: some scenes take place in a pachinko parlour called the Bittersweet School of Life. The principals’ apparently placid resolution can’t be understood without digesting the enigmatic final scene, in which the young couple, apparently having found love, nonetheless appear to be bound to the same quarrelsome behaviour.

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