Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Making of Mukhsin, Part 3: The flavour of green tea over rice.

It is said that in wartime Japan, some folks were so impoverished, they only had steamed rice to eat, and green tea to drink.

To give the rice some flavour, they would pour the tea over it.

Just a few years after the war, these people found themselves in the thick of full industrialisation, replete with all manners of culinary richness.

Strangely enough, somehow, some people often found themselves longing for the flavour of green tea over rice. It may have been bland compared to the cuisine of the new age, but there was something in the aftertaste, something simple yet profound, that once partaken, could never be forgotten.

In cinema, the films of Yasujiro Ozu (1903 - 1963) could be described as possessing of this unique quality.

Ozu's stories often revolved around everyday people with everyday problems, but the poignancy with which he delivered them can still make the audience of today see their own life through new eyes.

"Everyday life, rendered tellingly, provides more than enough drama to engage us deeply." - Ozu

He even named one of his films, "The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice". It was the story of a man married to a woman who constantly craved for social excitement, but he himself preferred the simple joys of a quiet life.

Later, the legendary Akira Kurosawa rebelled against Ozu's cinematic sensibilities, with many films that portrayed extraordinary people with extraordinary experiences, in a move which he openly described as "being sick of the flavour of green tea over rice".

I, however, am of the opinion that the two were simply purveyors of different types of sentiments. Who in their right mind would demand the angst of a Kurosawa Shakespearean tragedy from an Ozu family drama? You would have as much chance of obtaining bouillabaise at a satay stall.

In fact, I daresay that Ozu, despite his genius, would have probably messed up "The Seven Samurais", just as Kurosawa would have made a pig's ear of "Tokyo Story".

When an artist paints his canvas, he has in mind a personal feeling, a favourite flavour, which he wishes the viewer to sample. It is almost as if he is saying, "This is how I see things, because this is who I am. Have you ever had similar feelings?"

In a traditional Malay family, when a guest arrives, he is served tea that is pre-mixed with sugar and milk, in the way that the host prefers to take it. This is neither insensitive nor presumptuous. On the contrary, the host is wearing his heart on his sleeve and saying, "This is our life, please have a taste of it. We humbly hope it will meet your approval."

And so it is that while I may never be a great filmmaker, I'm pretty clear with the feelings I wanted to share with you through my own film.

"This is Mukhsin. Welcome to a part of my life, and a piece of my heart. I humbly hope it meets your approval."