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July 05, 2007

The Taste of Tea

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Cha no Aji
Katsuhito Ishii - 2004
Viz Pictures Region 1 DVD

The Taste of Tea seems like the title of a film by Yasujiro Ozu. What it has in common with Ozu is that it is a film that centers on a family, and there is a bit of tea drinking when everyone gathers at home. There is even a death at the end of the film which brings the family members closer together with a greater sense of happiness.

That the special effects of a The Taste of Tea look like they were done on someone's home computer adds to the charm of this whimsical tale. A little girl, Sachiko, is followed around by her giant doppelganger. Her uncle was once trailed by a yakuza ghost. Mom is an anime artist who uses Grandpa as her model for her super heroes and monster. Dad is a hypnotherapist, while his brother is a manga artist who wishes he were a pop star. This is a quietly comic film about artists and eccentrics crossing each other's paths.

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Katsuhito Ishii looks at the odder qualities of Japanese pop culture, with men dressed as robots, a Japanese reality television show with a woman who thinks she is a sabre tooth tiger, and a pop song so simple, and simple minded, that a producer is sure it will be a big hit. Ishii himself is best known for his anime contribution to Kill Bill, Vol. I. Unlike his work for Tarantino, The Taste of Tea is more contemplative, and rarely frenetic.

The Taste of Tea should ideally be seen on a large screen. Ishii makes use of some extreme long shots with the characters seen in the distance. Ishii also more typically films his characters as part of a group, or at least as several characters sharing a specific space. It may be his way of suggesting that strange environments are the home of strange people.

The one cast member that may be most familiar to western audiences would be Anna Tsuchiya, the growling teen punk from Kamikaze Girls. In this film, she plays Aoi, the Go playing new girl in school, the high school crush of bicycle riding Hajime. Following an after school game of Go, Aoi and Hajime walk in the rain, the two seen in long shot under a shared umbrella, walking on a road surrounded by fields. Hajime tosses his umbrella to Aoi who is inside a bus, just as the bus door closes. The gesture is romantic, yet understated. Like the surrealism and whimsy of The Taste of Tea, Ishii knows how much is enough without overwhelming his characters or the audience.

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Posted by peter at July 5, 2007 08:04 AM