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The Taste of Tea

At its core, Katsuhito Ishii‘s The Taste of Tea is a wonderful throwback to the family films of fellow Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, albeit with a slight twist of absurdity. Most known for his quirky Tarantino-esque film debut Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, Ishii surprises audiences once more with a film that ultimately shares very little with his past tendencies as a director. Instead of the hip and electrifying atmosphere of his freshman effort, The Taste of Tea moves at a snail’s pace, being careful to not gloss over any of its characters too quickly.

The Taste of Tea is without a traditional plot. Instead, Ishii supplies us with an in depth look into the lives of an eccentric family living in the Japanese countryside, and despite the fact that they live within the same house, their stories are for the most part separate from one another. It’s almost episodic in its execution, and  each character’s story is independent and relatively self sustaining to a degree.

While there are several side characters, for the most part, the film is dominated by the Haruno family consisting of five unique members. A teenage boy who struggles to share his affection with a transfer student, a young girl who attempts to overcome the constant presence of an enlarged version of herself, an eccentric grandfather who spends his days offering ideas for poses to his artist daughter-in-law and playing peek-a-boo with his granddaughter, a stay at home mother who doubles as an animator, a laid back uncle who makes his living as a sound-mixer (Tadanobu Asano) and a psychiatrist father who helps his patients through hypnosis. 

These character’s stories take up the majority of the screen time, and while they ultimately amount to little as a collection, the fragments are enjoyable enough in their own right to make up for the divided narrative. The film flirts with themes and symbolism, especially in regard to the daughter’s story, but ultimately it feels thematically void and too cryptic for its own good.

Ishii manages to create a visual feel that is serenely beautiful, which perfectly embodies the rural setting of the film. With a painstaking comb over, Ishii leaves no stone unturned, focusing on the most insignificant of details in regards to his characters and the world they inhabit. What many people would consider to be the redundancies of their daily lives, Ishii considers to be important, made evident through his bizarre focus on these types of moments through out the entirety of the  film. It isn’t uncommon for scenes to drag on for minutes at a time with few to no cuts between them, focusing on nothing of grave importance. And surprisingly, Ishii manages to string these pieces together into something that’s not overly boring, thanks in part to a series of surreal moments sprinkled through out the film.

If there’s one complaint that can be leveled at the film, it’s the fact that it’s just a bit too long. For a film that moves so meticulously through a non-existent plot, it ends up feeling considerably longer than the 143 minute runtime would lead you to believe. There are certainly some scenes that come off as redundant, which could easily be removed without effect to the end product. 

Final Verdict: The Taste of Tea is by no means a perfect film, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but the interesting characters and bouts of sheer insanity are more than enough to create an enjoyable experience. If you’re a fan of family ensemble films and can stomach an experience that unfolds slowly, then there are certainly worse ways you could spend two-hours.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Survive Style 5+

Gen Sakigichi‘s Survive Style 5+ is many things but conventional is certainly not one of them. In an industry that has a knack for creating some of the most bizarre films to grace the screen, Survive Style 5+ manages to embrace Japan’s renowned eccentricity and create a film that is both visually pleasing and more importantly, thematically sound.

As suggested within the title, Survive Style 5+ is told through five independent points of view, and unlike the jumbled narratives of Alejandro Inarritu, the characters and their stories don’t come together like an intricate puzzle by film’s end.

The film is composed of five sets of unique characters. A female commercial director who finds herself doubting her commercial making abilities following an unsuccessful pitch and a series of critical statements from her boyfriend. A working class family who have their lives thrust into turmoil when their patriarch is mentally transformed into a bird by a hypnotist permanently. Three good-for-nothing hoodlums who find themselves constantly encountering and avoiding homo-erotic situations. A Japanese “hitman broker” and his English killer for hire (Vinnie Jones). And finally, a husband (Tadanobu Asano) whose daily ritual consists of murdering his wife and disposing of the body, only to find that she will continually  resurrect to exact revenge for his past transgressions.

You may be wondering how exactly these stories tie together, and the with exception of the hitmen who show up within most of the stories, they technically do not. Fortunately, this does little to detract from what turned out to be, an excellent film with a solid underlying theme. As crazy as it sounds, the odd scenarios and slapstick humor work towards building a surprisingly profound theme, and in this regard, it truly sets itself apart from similar films that are merely style over substance. The theme boils down to the notion that people don’t truly appreciate what we have until it is threatened or lost forever, which appears to be the adhesive that holds this storm of a film together.

Survive Style 5+ is a visual treat. While the camera work is certainly serviceable, it’s hardly the best aspect of the film’s cinematography. The first thing you’ll notice is the filmmaker’s usage of eye-popping overly bright colors, which gives it a relatively unique visual style that is quite inviting to the eyes. The film’s overall color pallet, which is by no means restricted to any specific colors, is quite reminiscent of the French film Amelie, and it’d be surprising if these similarities were mere coincidence. Alongside the film’s brilliant visuals is a high octane soundtrack composed of Japanese Rock and various contemporary tracks from outside the country of Japan, which compliment the film nicely and help to give it a fresh feel.

Final Verdict: While Survive Style 5+ is for a lack of a better word, strange, both in its plot and execution, if you’re willing to give it a try, you’ll find that this artistic mess amounts something that is incredibly enjoyable. The mixture of Fantasy, Comedy and Drama, wrapped between oddball characters and their implausible stories, in the end, seems to just work.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10