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Taste of Tea
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The cast of Taste of Tea
AKA: Cha No Aji  
Year: 2004  
Director: Katsuhito Ishii  
  Producer: Hilo Iizumi, Kazuto Takida, Kazutoshi Wadakura
  Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Maya Banno, Takhiro Sato, Satomi Tezuka, Tatsuya Gashuin, Tomoko Nakajima, Ikki Todoroki, Tomokazu Miura, Anna Tsuchiya, Kirin Kin, Susumu Terajima (cameo), Shinji Takeda (cameo), Tsuyoshi Kusanagi (cameo), Hideaki Anno (Cameo), Ryo Kase (Cameo)
  The Skinny: From the director of Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl comes this quirky comedy about a "normal" Japanese family. Bizarre, hilarious, and oddly touching at times, The Taste of Tea is a refreshing break from the norm.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      From the outside looking in, certain families can look normal, if not ideal. But peel back the layers a bit, and you'll see all the eccentricities that make every family unique. In keeping with this idea, filmmaker Katsuhito Ishii writes, directs, and edits this extended look at the various quirks that typify the seemingly ordinary Haruno family: Yoshiko (Satomi Tezuka), her husband Nobuo (Tomokazu Miura), their sixteen-year-old son, Hajime (Takahiro Sato), their six-year-old daughter, Sachiko (Maya Banno), and Grandpa (Tetsuya Gashuin). While living together in the countryside, each family member is undergoing a personal drama of sorts, although these "struggles" range from the commonplace to the downright surreal.
     As the head of the household, Nobuo works as a hypno-therapist and occasionally tries out his skills on the family, while wife Yoshiko is trying her best to get back her old job as an animator. The piece she's drawing requires some outlandish action poses, and Grandpa is more than happy to oblige his services as a model - that is, when the sweet, but senile old fart isn't too busy putting a tuning fork to his ear. In typical teen drama fashion, young Hajime is smitten with Aoi (Anna Tsuchiya), his attractive new classmate, and joins the igo club just to get closer to her. However, he doesn't seem to have the courage to approach her. Little Sachiko has problems of her own, but unlike her brother's issues, they are anything but typical. To wit, she finds herself being haunted by a giant-sized doppelganger that only she can see. After overhearing a story of a similar "haunting," she becomes convinced that if she can successfully complete a full backflip on the monkey bars near her house, the gargantuan double will magically disappear. As a kid, of course, that's sound logic.
     Joining the closely-knit family is the ineffably cool Uncle Ayano (Tadanobu Asano), a sound mixer who ends up crossing paths with a former girlfriend (Tomoko Nakajima) who's moved on with her life. It's an interesting subplot considering their awkward, but tender chance encounter, but overall, it's an underdeveloped storyline. Considering The Taste of Tea's already lengthy 159-minute running time, perhaps it was an element that was left on the cutting room floor. Ayano does get more to do later in the film, as he grudgingly agrees to help Nobuo's bespectacled, mushroom-topped brother (Ikki Todoroki) with a seemingly idiotic vanity project. The guy is an otaku geek who's crafted his very own song entitled "Yama Yo" ("Oh, Mountain"), a tune that is as silly as it is catchy.
     There's no plot per se; Ishii depicts a collection of family experiences that join together to form a greater whole, although that description in itself is an oversimplification. The Taste of Tea is far more nuanced than that. And although there's a seeming normalcy at the heart of the film, oddness regularly abounds. The "Yama Yo" video - full of outrageous costumes, ridiculously choreographed hand gestures, and Grandpa singing backup - is a giddy delight. Similarly, a scene of Nobuo's lecherous brother getting thrashed by a petite, cutesy vocied co-worker is an oddly satisfying thrill, as is Ayano's story about being forced to take a dump in the woods as a child, only to find himself shadowed by the bloodied ghost of a murdered Yakuza. Appearing early in the film, the scene is laugh-out loud hilarious, especially considering Asano's deadpan delivery and his character's own amused confusion at his strangely comic tale. And then, of course, there's the planet-sized sunflower that goes on to devour the entire universe near the film's climax. Yeah, it's that weird.
     But what's remarkable about The Taste of Tea is that all this strangeness isn't really alienating at all. If anything, rather than distance us from the proceedings, these strange moments bring the audience even closer to the characters. In exhibiting a laid back, languorous style, the film is probably too long for its own good, but even having said that, the extensive time spent with this family is completely worthwhile. Amidst all this quirkiness, the film builds to a finale that is surprisingly heartwarming and triumphant. It's a strange movie to be sure, but thanks to its winning sense of humor, charming characters, and masterful use of magical realism if not outright absurdity, The Taste of Tea makes for a wholly satisfying cinematic experience. It may not suit all tastes, but when it comes to whatever Katsuhito Ishii has planned next, I'm definitely up for a refill. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)

2004 Hawaii International Film Festival
• Winner - Best Feature Film

Availability: Region 2 NTSC
Rentrak Entertainment
2-Disc "Good Taste" Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
Various Extras
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen