The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice
Made the year before his career defining masterpiece, Tokyo Story, Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice is one of Yasujiro Ozu’s most beautiful domestic sagas, a subtly piercing portrait of a marriage coming quietly undone.
Secrets and deceptions strain the already tenuous relationship of a childless, middle aged couple, as the wife’s city bred sophistication clashes with the husband’s small town simplicity, and a generational sea change in the form of their headstrong, modern niece sweeps over their household.
Ozu’s expert grasp of family dynamics receives one of its most spirited treatments, with a wry, tender humour and an expansiveness that moves the action from the home, to the baseball stadiums and the shops of post-war Tokyo.
BFI Video presents Yasujiro Ozu’s The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice in a new dual-format edition. It is presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition on the dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. BFI is making use of the exact same 4K restoration undertaken by Shochiku that Criterion used for their North American release. The restoration was sourced from a 35mm fine-grain positive. This disc is locked to region B, so North American viewers will require Blu-ray players capable of playing back region B content.
As with the Criterion presentation the image is very pleasant, much, much better than I had initially been expecting, but it has a handful of issues that probably come down to the restoration itself. The biggest surprise (still) is that there is no damage to speak of, or at least anything that sticks out. I would have expected, at the very least, very fine scratches or similar, but nope, I didn’t notice anything of the sort popping up. I suspect the reason for this is because the image was softened a smidge to hide this. Detail is decent, mind you, and I would certainly not say the image becomes a smudgy mess; it isn’t. It’s just that finer object-detail and textures never pop and there can be a flatness to the image. And while that could be an issue with the source, the reason I ultimately feel the image has been softened during the restoration is because the grain has obviously been muddled with. It’s still there, but it can lack texture itself and is never well-defined.
The presentation is still solid, though, still watchable, and still far better than I ever would have imagined possible. Gray scale and blacks still look exceptional, and the whites are good without ever blooming. The image is also stable and very clean. Again, it’s fine. It just seems some filtering knobs were turned a notch or two past where they maybe should have been.
So, this is the area where I must say I’m most shocked. BFI includes two lossless PCM mono tracks, both in Japanese: the restored one and the original unrestored one. When I initially reviewed the Criterion edition, I noted it was incredibly flat, lacking any sort of depth or fidelity, while still sounding a little tinny. The restored track sounds exactly the same here: incredibly flat, a bit tinny and distorted, but easy enough to hear. I attributed its short-comings primarily to age initially in my review for the Criterion edition, though as I learned here, I was very wrong on that front.
The unrestored track sounds waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy better, despite any of the issues that remain. I know filtering out background noise and such can have adverse effects on an audio track, but I guess I just never realized how bad it could be. The unrestored track has far more of a kick to it: dialogue has more depth and range, sound effects, even footsteps, are far clearer, and music sounds a bit more dynamic. Yes, it’s still a bit edgy overall, and yes, background noise can be loud and there are some clicks and pops, but good God, it sounds infinitely better overall than the muffled, lifeless “restored” track.
I’m pleased BFI at least gives you the option, but I would still push everyone to the unrestored track. It shows its age, but it manages to be a far more robust and dynamic presentation in comparison to whatever the hell that “restored” track is.
BFI throws together a nice little edition for this film, though it does pale in comparison to what Criterion managed to put together for it. BFI does provide an audio commentary by film scholar Tony Rayns. Rayns starts off by saying that recording a commentary for an Ozu film is a “daunting task” and maybe he has taken that a bit to heart as this isn’t one of his more memorable tracks. He covers all of the bases I would expect, talking about Ozu’s work, this film’s surprisingly long history (it was originally to be made during the war, with the husband leaving to go off and fight), and gets into the film’s presentation of marriage, culture clashes, and what not. He also offers context where needed and talks about Ozu’s style of filmmaking, which didn’t follow conventions of the time and he explains how he was outside the norm. He also brings up Ozu’s film What Did the Lady Forget?, which shares similarities to this one, but he notes Green Tea isn’t a remake of that one. But there are times where I felt he wasn’t really in it, and he could occasionally go off on a few tangents, like one where he feels the need to counter some comments (or reviews) he read on IMDB. In the end it’s fine and he covers what one would expect, but I was surprised to feel that there wasn’t a lot of passion in it. Rayns’ best tracks are best when he’s obviously excited to be there, like with his track for A Brighter Summer Day (which is becoming one of my all-time favourite commentary tracks the more I think about it) and that just never feels to be the case here.
That ends up being the only film-specific supplement, though, with the remaining content having little to do with the film itself. BFI does include two short films from their archive (neither directed by Ozu), both of which are, at best, tenuously related to the feature film in that they deal with marriage (very loosely) and domestic issues. The first is the 1932, 34-minute educational film The Mystery of Marriage, followed by the 1949, 9-minute The Good Housewife ‘In Her Kitchen’. The latter one seems to be intended as an information film on how to properly store food, with the host showing how to place food in the fridge or various types of cabinets, before a working-class crew member interrupts things to remind her that not everyone has those things, taking her back to his apartment to show how he and “the missus” do it.
The Mystery of Marriage is a bit of a bizarre one: a nature film that looks at the mating rituals of various species, which is then amusingly cross-cut with what I guess are supposed to be similar (if a wee-bit aggressive) human interactions. The film works to explain how the sexes end up attracted to each other, even going as far as explaining how mold even follows similar traits. It’s a bizarre film, but all the more interesting because of it. Neither film looks to have received much in the way of restoration, but Marriage is presented in high-definition, while Housewife looks to be a standard-definition upscale.
BFI also includes one of their excellent booklets, though as I mentioned above there is nothing specific about this film. They provide a reprint of an excellent article written by Tom Milne, covering Ozu’s work and style of filmmaking, with a focus on how all these little moments and scenes (some of which are insignificant on their own) all come together to build something more. Following this are some notes on the supplements written by Vic Pratt (including a lengthy one about The Mystery of Marriage and its director, Mary Field.
I was surprised to see that BFI didn’t include What Did the Lady Forget? like Criterion did on their edition, especially since Rayns talks about that film pretty extensively on his commentary track. Further research showed that BFI had already included it on their edition for Early Summer, so that may be why it doesn’t appear here. As it is this edition sadly pales in comparison to Criterion’s, which wasn’t really all that stacked itself, but at least included some strong video essays about the film and its director, along with What Did the Lady Forget?
Based on supplements I’d say the Criterion edition edges this one out, but the unrestored audio is such an improvement over the “restored” one I’d say this edition is worth picking up for that reason alone.