DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
TASTE OF TEA, THE (Cha no aji) (director/writer: Katsuhito Ishii; cinematographer: Kosuke Matsushima; editor: Katsuhito Ishii; music: Little Tempo; cast: Maya Banno (Sachiko Haruno), Takahiro Sato (Hajime Haruno), Tadanobu Asano (Ayano Haruno), Satomi Tezuka (Yoshiko Haruno), Anna Tsuchiya (Aoi Suzuishi), Tomoko Nakajima (Akira Terako), Tomokazu Miura (Nobuo Haruno), Tatsuya Gashuin (Akira Todoroki - grandpa), Ikki Todoroki (Himself), Anna Tsuchiya (Aoi Suzuishi); Runtime: 143; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kazuto Takida/Kazutoshi Wadakura; Viz Pictures; 2004-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

 
"The title is well-suited for an Ozu film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is well-suited for an Ozu film. The Taste of Tea is a quirky comedy best suited for connoisseurs of arthouse films. It offers a constant assault on the senses through a series of imaginative images offered through a series of vignettes that may be linked as often as they are not. It tells an unconventional family drama about an eccentric happy Japanese family who are saddled with universal conventional problems. Its major problem is its 143 minute length, which makes it overlong and tries the viewer's patience. Katsuhito Ishii ("Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl "/"Party 7") is writer, director and editor, who keeps it oddly pleasing and both uniquely Japanese and universal (even though the family covered is in all probability not like yours, nevertheless they experience the same problems and could easily be thought of in the same light).

The Harunos are a loving family that live in a small mountain town just outside Tokyo, where they enjoy a quiet life in a comfortable rustic home but have a number of unsettled issues. Dad (Tomokazu Miura) is a professional hypnotist who sometimes practices on the family (in one scene he puts them under and tells them to enjoy a trivial popular evening TV show). Mom (Satomi Tezuka) comes out of retirement and seeks to once again apply her skills as an animator. The 8-year-old Sachiko (Maya Banno), the most compelling figure in the film, constantly sees a giant-sized double of herself everywhere she goes. Her shy older brother, a high school student, Hajime (Takahiro Sato), has a crush on a pretty new schoolmate, a half-American, half-Japanese girl (Anna Tsuchiya) and learns to play Go so he can meet her at the school club she belongs to. The handsome uncle, Ayano (Tadanobu Asano), is a sound mixer who tells strange stories and is trying to get over that the girl he loved married another. Another uncle, Ikki Todoroki (Himself), a famous manga artist, surprisingly visits the family and commissions Ayano to cut his CD that hardly has any vocals. Finally there's the elderly grandpa (Tatsuya Gashuin), mom's dad, who just acts weird (always offering himself in strange poses) but might be the most perceptive family member.

It paints a gentle family portrait of a family struggling to find a quality of life and live a peaceful life to the fullest. Everything about it is enchanting and slowly paced, as if it's in no rush to tell its richly visual story with as many eye-popping images as possible. Events, whether minor or major, are handled in the same calm manner. It's worth checking out for the satisfying gorgeous photography that is reassuringly pleasant, and a warm-hearted story that is touching without any false notes.

REVIEWED ON 9/30/2008        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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