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Where EAST meets the Northwest

TEA TIME. In director Katsuhito Ishii’s The Taste of Tea, Sachiko (Maya Banno) doesn’t know how to deal with her giant doppelgänger. (Photo courtesy of Viz Pictures)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #14 (April 3, 2007), page 15.

A taste of eccentricity

The Taste of Tea

Directed by Katsuhito Ishii

Produced by Hilo Iizumi, Kazuto Takida, and Kazutoshi Wadakura

Distributed by Viz Pictures, Inc.

By Toni Tabora-Roberts

If you’re looking for an action-packed, fast-paced, plot-driven thriller, then look elsewhere. If you are up for an adventure in the unusual, check out this leisurely (and sometimes fantastical) exploration of a quirky family living in the country.

The Taste of Tea is the third feature by Japanese writer/director Katsuhiro Ishii. His earlier films Sharkskin Man & Peach Hip Girl (1999) and Party 7 (2000) were both box-office hits in Japan and established him as an artist with a creative, eccentric point-of-view. Ishii’s work became more familiar to American audiences when he collaborated with Quentin Tarantino for the animated sequence in Tarantino’s epic Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

As the film opens, we first meet Hajime, an awkward teenage boy who is a hopeless romantic with a penchant for dramatic cycling through the beautiful countryside. His young sister, Sachiko, is pensive and often perplexed, longingly trying to figure out how to deal with the larger-than-life version of herself that keeps following her around. It sounds strange, but that’s just one of the whimsical elements of this film.

Next we catch a glimpse of Grandpa, who seems very much like a manga (Japanese comic) character with wild hair, a unibrow, and a seemingly choreographed, graceful way of moving. Mom, Yoshiko, is a quietly obsessive animator trying to get back into the business. Dad, Nobuo, seems normal at first, but then turns out to be a professional hypnotist. Rounding out the Haruno family is Yoshiko’s brother, Ayano, a slacker musician-type who is staying with them while he works through a bad case of heartbreak. Eventually we meet some other strange characters including Nobuo’s brother, an eccentric manga artist, as well as Aio, a new girl at Hajime’s school and the latest object of his affection.

In Ishii’s bizarre world, manga characters appear on subways, floating heads and flowers fill the sky, and people stare into the countryside for what seems like hours. The film’s moments unfold slowly, allowing us to observe characters almost in real time. The plot is relatively thin and sometimes preposterous, but in a charming, understated fashion. At times it feels like the weird characters barely engage with each other, instead preoccupied with their own pursuits. Eventually, though, it starts to feel oddly familiar and endearing, in that way that your own family might feel. It’s a reminder that, although we may seem somewhat normal to the outside world, we’re all at least a little strange when it comes down to it.

The Taste of Tea is a bit long, over two hours, but it’s worth hanging in there. You’ll meet some interesting, funny characters and enjoy some enchanting visual candy. The film opens on Friday, April 6 at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. in Portland. For more information, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <>.