An oddly-fascinating tale, with equally fascinating and eccentric characters, The Taste of Tea (Cha no aji 茶の味） is probably like nothing you've ever seen before. Not only does it earn points for originality and uniqueness, but it's manner of storytelling is so non-typical that you'll have a hard time not liking this movie.
The Haruno family are definitely not what most people would consider "normal". Residing in rural Tochigi prefecture, just north of Tokyo, we follow along as the Haruno's go about their daily lives, which by all accounts should be a boring task, but what's mundane to them is fascinating to us. Teenager Hajime Haruno (Takahiro Sato) is experiencing what all teenage boys experience in their lives; falling in love. The girl of his dreams has moved away, and due to some rather unfortunate eaves-dropping incidents, he's developed a phobia of the opposite sex and is finding it hard to speak to them. His younger sister Sachiko (Maya Banno) is a typical 6-year old girl, in the sense that her over-active imagination has taken shape in the form of a giant version of herself that follows her around and watches her every move. After hearing a story from her Uncle Ayano (Tadanobu Asano), in which he explains a similar situation he experienced as a child, Sachiko dedicates her free-time to doing a backflip on the horizontal bar located in the forest. If Ayano could get rid of his "ghost" problem that way, than maybe Sachiko's giant-self will disappear as well. Mother Yoshiko (Satomi Tezuka) is working on some new sketches that she's hoping will re-establish her within the animation industry, as she had to take a step back due to her family responsibilities. Her father, Grandpa Akira Todoroki (Tatsuya Gasyuin) assists her in developing new poses for her characters, and otherwise displays a wide array of strange behaviors, all the while humming and singing different songs around the house. The father, Nobuo Haruno (Tomokazu Miura), has an interesting job as a hypno-therapist, where he hypnotizes people into a relaxed state, either to calm them down, or help them overcome different issues in their lives. We're also briefly introduced to Nobuo's brother Ikki Todoroki (playing himself), who is an accomplished manga artist living in Tokyo, who also fancies himself as somewhat of a singer. Uncle Ayano works as a sound mixer for a living, and Ikki requests that he mix a song that he's been working on as a birthday present to himself. This session results in a hilarious song and dance routine known as the, "Yama-yo", or "The Mountain Song". Meanwhile, Hajime is excited about everyday life again when new girl Aoi Suzuishi (Anna Tsuchiya) joins his class and shows an interest in one of his favorite hobbies; the board game Go. Will Hajime will find the strength to confess his love to Aoi? Will Sachiko overcome the horizontal bar? Will Yoshiko be accepted again amongst her peers to revitalize her career? And most importantly of all; what will Grandpa do next?
You'll be asking yourself these same questions and more as you watch The Taste of Tea, because due to the unique vision and direction of Katsuhito Ishii, you really won't know what to expect. In a lot of ways, that level of uncertainty is what makes movies, including this one, so great and entertaining to watch. The story is very untraditional in the sense that at times it feels as if you're watching a reality show, or a documentary on this family and their day to day life. Although, it's the strength of the characters that keep it from being as boring as that last sentence makes it sound. Even at two hours and twenty-three minutes, you'll find yourself wanting the film to keep going just to see what happens next with the Haruno family. Great performances (especially from Tatsuya Gasyuin as the quirky Grandpa), and a fun, almost fantasy-like feel, help to contribute to the overall experience. Director Katsuhito Ishii has an interesting way of showing us the imagination of his characters, with Sachiko's giant-self being the most obvious example.
Definitely not conforming to typical film-making standards, The Taste of Tea is a refreshing change of pace in the all too mundane cinema landscape. I love it when new things are tried in film and end up a success, and that's exactly what happened here. (Lee)
*No Trailer Available
Buy The Taste of Tea 2-Disc Set; Special Edition; Subtitled; US Version DVD from YESASIA!
Subtitled; US Version DVD
Good Taste Edition DVD (Normal Edition; Japan Version; English Subtitles)
Gottokuru Box DVD (Limited Edition; Japan Version; English Subtitles)