Taste of Tea, The
As 8-year old Sachiko (Maya Banno) tries to get rid of a giant version of herself who seems to pop up everywhere, her older brother Hajime (Takahiro Sato), privately wrestles with his love-struck heart. Meanwhile, their mother Yoshiko (Satomi Tezuka) is working hard, coming out of retirement as an animator, as her husband and professional hypnotist Nobuo (Tomokazu Miura) watches on with slight apprehension. Yoshikos brother, Ayano (Tadanobu Asano) is just visiting his hometown and staying with the family, but also has ashidden agenda; he needs to come to terms with a romance that ended years ago. Even Nobuos brother and successful manga artist Todoroki has his problems. Its his birthday soon and he wants to give himself something special. And lastly theres Grandpa, the most bizarre and perhaps the most perceptive of all, who continues to search for a better way to live life to the full. Written, directed and edited by Katsuhito ISHII, The Taste of Tea is a unique and gentle family portrait tackling the universal themes of time, people and their lives.
Like Ozu's Tokyo Story, The Taste of Tea takes the long view of a Japanese family, though the eccentric Harunos are unconcerned with the moral quandaries Ozu's characters typically face. Director Katsuhito Ishii, known in America for his animated sequence in Kill Bill Pt. 2, gives the viewer a comedic slice of life in this artistic family's rural village. With a mother reentering the animation business, a musical grandfather conceptually akin to Yoko Ono, and a hypnotist father, siblings Hajime (Takahiro Sato) and Sachiko (Maya Banno) have the mental freedom to roam deep into imagined worlds that comprise the film's core. Hajime's infatuation with a girl at school becomes an obsession that bears fruit due to his commitment to meeting her. Sachiko's giant ghost follows her, leading her to believe that if she can master a back flip on the gym bars that she will scare the ghost away. The Taste of Tea relies upon odd, awkward moments of reflection or confusion. Hajime isn't sure what to make of his Uncle Ayano's (Tadanobu Asano) story involving a chicken egg in the forest. Similarly, Sachiko runs for her life when a man emerges out of the mud next to her. The absurdity in the narrative is underscored by visual impossibilities, for example a train rushing out of Hajime's head, and other bizarre live-action animation. Interestingly, each character's dilemma is based on external forces. Tensions between family members are non-existent in The Taste of Tea, reinforcing the idea that artistic minds must stick together in an increasingly unpredictable world. --Trinie Dalton