Dir/scr/ed: IshiiKatsuhito. Japan. 2004. 143mins
A little eccentricitygoes a long way in The Taste Of Tea, the third feature from IshiiKatsuhito that bills itself as a fusion of the classical humanist dramas of Ozuand the manga-shaped sensibility of a director who worked on the animationsequence in Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol 1.
In truth, it is more of akitchen sink film that throws in everything from an anime sequence to a musicalnumber, sadistic slapstick and absurdist comedy. Ironically, it is the conventionalscenes of affectionate family ties that carry more weight and charm than theseindulgent flights of fancy.
The inconsistency of toneand ragbag of influences makes this a difficult commercial proposition outsideJapan and, even with some judicious editing, it seems a highly unlikelytheatrical performer. That said, it has won recognition at Fantasy FilmFestivals including Neuchatel (Audience Award) and Puchon (Jury Award) afterits premiere in Director's Fortnight at Cannes.
Set in a small mountain townoutside Tokyo, the film focuses on the Haruno family, the kind of bohemian clanthat might once have appeared in a screwball comedy such as Frank Capra's YouCan't Take It With You or occupied a house in David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
Six-year-old Sachiko (Banno)is troubled by a giant doppelganger that follows her everywhere. Her olderbrother Hajime (Sato) is a love-struck adolescent who occasionally sees a trainhurtling out of his head. Their father Nobou (Miura) practises hypnotherapy.Their mother Yoshiko (Tezuka) is an animation artist working on a comeback witha little help from a grandfather who supplies her with ideas for nifty physicalmovements and fine-tunes a song that he hopes to record as a birthday treat.The clan is completed by uncle Ayano (Asano), a sound engineer.
Ishii doffs his hat to theworld of Ozu in the lyrical country scenes of shifting seasons, cherry blossomand family gatherings, but his own sensibility is a more dominant influence.The film shoots off in many unpredictable ways as each family member confrontsand resolves the issues that have been troubling them.
Sporadic laughter isprovoked by some of the deadpan comedy and surreal shaggy dog stories - Ayanorecounts a tale of how he unwittingly released the soul of a dead yakuza;Sachiko uncovers a man buried alive in the mud, and a manic baseball playerpops up at odd moments. Some of this works, but a lot of it feels like a filmstraining in too many directions and a film-maker unable to refine hisexplosion of ideas into a coherent form. It is an inventive and original film,but also one that feels a little too indulgent.
Just when it seems the filmhas overstayed its welcome, Ishii does pull it all together with a family deathand a charming sense of what the members have all meant to the dear departed.He then spoils the mood by not knowing when to stop, an indication of anidiosyncratic work that appeals and frustrates in equal measure.
Prod co: Grasshoppa!, Rentrax Japan!
Int'l sales: Klockwork
Prods: Kazuto Takida, Kazutoshi Wadakura
Cine: Matsushima Kosuke
Prod des: Tsuzuki Yuji
Music: Little Tempo
Main cast: Sato Takahiro, BannoMaya, Asano Tadanobu, Satomi Tezuka, Miura Temokazu