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Taste of Tea, The

VIZ // Unrated // July 3, 2007
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 27, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Taste of Tea is about family, animation, a boy's teenage crush, a young girl's journey through childhood, and the everyday interconnections we build. If you're searching for a film with a direct plot with a steadfast destination, then this might not be your cup of ... well, you can figure that one out. However, amidst a world of films that work diligently towards a purpose, such a film that takes its graceful, idiosyncratic time going nowhere is a treat to behold if done properly. To say the least, this film from director Katsuhito Ishii gets just about everything right.

The Film:

Let's give a little more flesh to our characters, so you can at least get a bit of an idea on what you're walking into. Our family's portrait lies in the rural, beautiful surroundings of a town just north of Tokyo. A dedicated mother is in the process of making her triumphant return to the world of Japanese anime. Together with the aid of the family's loopy elder (i.e. Grandpa), the two of them goofily prance across the house in efforts to wrangle together creative inspiration. The animator's husband (i.e. Dad) has nothing to do with it but support her cause; he's a hypnotherapist who works very late hours. Amidst his outstretched work and his wife's creative indulgences, their children make their way down their own compelling journeys. After a heartbreaking goodbye with an old "flame", their teenage boy discovers a new girl at school for him to court. And, of course, there's the journey of our youthful protagonist girl who spends her days dodging a giant manifestation of herself and trying to completely flip around a steel bar.

What's important to cull from The Taste of Tea's narrative is its exquisite ability to say volumes without saying a word. We learn more from body language and subsequent mutterings than we do about any of the plot that unfolds. Little things, like small hide-and-seek games between the granddaughter and the elder man in the house, tell us more than any line of text. We see a teenage boy and his father play an Othello-esque game while the mother and grandfather "discuss" posture and stances. Nothing major really happens amidst the familial events until the film begins to wind down. The word "mosaic" gets used in movie descriptions quite a bit, but here it truly is fitting. This feels like many segments of this beautiful picture are interconnected, glued together, and presented without a clear picture directly in front. It's only when we stand back that we see the beauty. These characters are just there, and within these, at times, bizarre activities and minute bits of grace that escape through their normalcy lies The Taste of Tea's true joy.

Amazingly, the strength of the family's resolve and interaction makes them feel like one solid entity. Sure, you can chip them away and compliment the teenage boy's hormonal angst and the mother's subdued strength. However, separating them out would do an injustice to that bond everyone obviously slaved away to assemble. When a person is separate from their offspring and parents, they might portray themselves quite differently. It's much the same with each of these family members, except that you also see their family following each activity. Whether it's running from a giant form of herself with the young girl or the doctor's hypnosis appointments, all of it returns to the root of the group.

At around ten minutes shy of two-and-a-half hours, The Taste of Tea makes certain not to rush itself when telling our family's story. It's not even telling a story, per se, but more reflecting on the memoirs or notes about this clan. But it's two-and-a-half hours of whimsical, bright humor that'll take your breath away and leave nothing but a smile on your face. Even within the times when it slows down, blithely skipping along at a breeze's pace, Katsuhito Ishii's picture gives us so much warmth and enveloping glee to work with that these moments are savored instead of dreaded. Seeing a boy tumultuously biking from his school and riding the bus with his father many times never grows old.

The Taste of Tea, bizarre and whimsical at first glance, is all about eccentric subtleties much like the flavor in which the title speaks of. To some, tea might taste like odd flavored water. To others, however, the richness of gentle flavors can satisfy the palette in a myriad of ways. The Taste of Tea holds a universal capacity for humor. With some foreign comedies, the humor just doesn't carry over to the same level as the native language. It delivers its flashes of visual and thematic humor so well that each and every language can grasp it. This isn't a comedy, though I found myself laughing quite a bit. And it's not a drama, though it massaged and prodded that emotive organ thumping in my chest. There's a lot of magic to love packed within this film. In one word, The Taste of Tea is just, well, beautiful.

The DVD:

Viz Pictures brings The Taste of Tea to us in a standard single-disc presentation.

The Video:

At times, there's a great amount to keep an eye on in The Taste of Tea's anamorphic widescreen presentation spread across what looks to be close to a 1.66:1 aspect ratio with slim black bars on each side. It's a strangely perceived film with a subdued color palette that also displays some brash explosions of color. Across the board, The Taste of Tea looks quite nice. It's a little muddy with detail, kind of lending a hazy feel about the presentation. However, a lot of the color representation and detail also appeared quite sharp. Small points, like tile details on roofs and flower petals, showed their faces to a dramatic degree. Free of most print flaws and rich with a starkly glaring palette, this film's image came across as oddly pleasing.

The Audio:

In general, The Taste of Tea's Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital Presentation is pleasing, though not terribly dynamic. It's rich with detail, sporting crisp and clean dialogue. No audible problems could be detected across the board. However, there's a whole other set of channels that remain fairly unused. Surround elements were used very, very infrequently (such as a swirling scene in a classroom and most forest clips). However, when they are used, they're used with strength. Also, the LFE remains practically vapid for all except one crafty little scene. Though it felt like a stereo track busting at the seams with effects that spouted out occasionally, let's remember this is ultimately a fairly quiet film that doesn't require much in the ways of dynamics. The Taste of Tea ultimately does a bit better than merely getting the job done with this aural display. The English subtitles are, indeed, optional if you're able to understand Japanese.

The Extras:

Additional material on this disc is pretty darn sparse. All we're working with are two Trailers, Director and Cast Biographies, a Scene Selection, and Previews for other Viz Pictures projects, including Ping Pong, Linda Linda Linda, Kamikaze Girls, and Train Man: Tensha Otoko.


Final Thoughts:

Enough wonderful things can't be said about The Taste of Tea. Katsuhito Ishii graces us with the presence of a peculiar, warm, and thoroughly enchanting portrait into a family's typical growth. It paints an image of normalcy, then adds some mystical elements to give it dashes of humorous flavor across the board. With solid audio and video elements atop a quality picture, The Taste of Tea comes very Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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