The two Japanese films, 1989’s Rikyu and 2013’s Ask This of Rikyu, could have been written by the same screenwriter as the plots tell almost identical sequence of incidents in Sen no Rikyū‘s life. I know because I binge watched the two movies one Saturday morning last year, and I wish I had written this post back then, but as always procrastination prevails.
Critics, if they haven’t done so already, will probably give the 1989 film an 8 on a scale of 10, and the 2013 film a 7 or 6. Illuminated by that indelible Japonais sensibility – punctilious, arcane, eccentric – the decades-old production attains cinematic art-house distinction that bars any critic from favoring the more visually stunning 2013 work. In my opinion, superb casting cast the die. A thespian maven who conveyed sentiments with reticent disposition, subtle bodily movements, even his baggy eyes, the older and wiser actor portrayed the tea master’s devoir exquisitely. By comparison, in the 2013 film, Kabuki actor Ebizô Ichikawa underestimated the effort required to deliver the film’s theme – desiderium. How could he look almost the same at the age of seventy when Sen no Rikyū committed seppuku as at the age of twenty when he was a coxcomb? Tea must not be mistaken for the fountain of youth. The plot’s most extraneous love affair became the ultimate culprit after injecting the extravagant production with a fatal dose of melodrama.
Via different implementations, both films successfully depict my favorite Rikyū anecdote – the 1586 tea ceremony that Hideyoshi performed for the emperor inside the Golden Tea Room, a space so confined yet laden with such grandeur and earthly desires! Only after watching both movies did I learn that a Rikyū statue/idol, which some believe to be commissioned by Rikyū himself, greatly contributed to his demise.
It never occurred to me to write another post on tea-themed films as I have previously reviewed the very disappointing Tea Fight! and Green Tea, and the pretentious The Taste of Tea. Another 1989 cinematic piece, Death of a Tea Master, should have been assessed as well, but I was not aware of its existence until a few days ago. Anyone interested in reviewing it?
Images courtesy of Ifang Hsieh.