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August 25, 2010: The Flavor of Green Tea Over RIce

August 25, 2010

I was pleased to have Isaac, Sarah, and Matt over for dinner, last week. In keeping with my “Summer on a Stick” unconscious theme I have going, I made:

  • Grilled Fennel and Papaya Skewers in Lime-butter
  • Grilled Onion and Chicken Skewers in Lemon-Pepper Sauce
  • Greek Pasta Salad
  • Chilled Chai sweetened with Coconut Milk

In addition to their wonderful company, these guys really know their movies and in addition to taking some well deserved teasing about Netflixing “Furry Vengeance” I walked away with a list of really good films to add to my list. Seeing Isaac reminded me of a wonderful movie he bequeathed to me a while back, Yasujiro Ozu’s  1952 “Ochazuke No Aji” or “The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice.”

It seems many critics of this film attack the perils of arranged marriages, and while yes, that’s a part of movie, I think these critics are missing the larger points that Ozu is addressing about the everyday pitfalls of not only marriage, but relationships in general. The married leads Mokichi and Taeko have their issues:. Mokichi tends to be a rather distant to his wife, and for Taeko, nothing Mokichi does is OK. From the brand of cigarette he smokes, the 3rd class train that he travels in, even how he eats his food and the food he enjoys is 3rd rate. Her friends Aya and Takaka are little help. Themselves products of arranged marriages, one of their husband seems to have  a permanent residence in France, and the other is a liar and a cheat. Even the couple’s niece, Setusko who seems to dearly care for her aunt and uncle cannot bring them together.

The bulk of the film describes the relationship for the leads and everyone in their lives, along the way, one sees a lot of Japanese life and customs of, at least, the early 50’s: The spas, the pachinko parlors and the restaurant “Calorie House”, where they hang out. The entertainment of the race track (funny, it’s bikes they are racing. I wonder if this is a 50’s thing?) Home life and even a typical business is explored and worth watching, if only to catch the “Willy Wonka” theme played ad infinitum in the pachinko parlor, and I wonder if a modern Japanese launches into song so readily as they do in the film? I’ll have to ask Yoshio, Teja, Miguel, and Pam if these are true to life.

Mokichi and Taeko reach their biggest hurdle when Taeko goes away for some alone time at the same time Mokichi is given the dictate by his company to pack up and move away to S. America ASAP! As Taeko misses (or ignores) Mokichi’s telegram she returns home to find her husband gone, perhaps forever. Luckily, Mokichi’s plane is delayed, giving the couple one last chance for make or break.

The title of the movie is made clear as the couple struggle to make the dish without waking up their maid. Their final accord is a sweet and intimate encounter and a good example of how making and sharing food can communicate understanding and the importance of the familiar…and reliable!

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