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The Taste of Tea

( Cha no Aji, Ishii Katsuhito, Japan, 2004)


 


Anyone who thinks that the genre of quirky comedy is peculiar to Australia should take a look at Ishii Katsuhito’s The Taste of Tea. This film trumps all previous attempts to be cute, whimsical or zany: in fact, it resembles nothing so much as the collected works of Yahoo Serious mulched into one movie and refracted through the universe of Japanese pop culture.

 

Japanese cinema loves its Crazy Families, and it would be hard to find one crazier than this. Each member of a merrily dysfunctional unit gets their own plot thread – at 143 minutes, there’s time for them all.

 

A little girl, Sachiko (Maya Banno), is shadowed, at all times, by a giant version of herself. A teenage boy, Hajime (Takahiro Sato), has visions of trains speeding out of his head. There are hypnotists, animators, music producers.

 

Ishii is best known for his debut feature Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl (1998) and his animated segment in Kill Bill – Vol. 1 (2003). The Taste of Tea is stuffed to bursting with digressions and flashbacks, but always returns to the familiar rhythms and rituals of the Haruno family’s daily life.

 

Comedy is the dominant tone here, although there are some uneasy attempts at pathos and spiritual uplift. Highlights include a wonderful scene in which a woman bashes up her boss; a trio who perform a song containing the single, repeated word mountain; and an anime team who accompany the rough footage of their latest epic with improvised, vocal sound effects.

© Adrian Martin October 2005


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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