Film / Reviews

‘Every Day a Good Day’: The wonder of tea with Kirin Kiki

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

I attended my first tea ceremony decades ago, as part of a company orientation. Kneeling on the floor, I sat in the formal seiza position, stumbled through the motions and sipped the thick green tea. Just as the pain in my legs was reaching a crescendo, I bowed to my host and hobbled out. I had next to no idea what it all meant. A box ticked off in the Japanese cultural experiences list?

Based on a collection of essays by Noriko Morishita, Tatsushi Omori’s “Every Day a Good Day” knowledgeably and gorgeously shows how tea ceremony is far more than a feudal-era relic trotted out for bemused observers. For the heroine and her fellow followers of sadō (the way of tea), it is a shining embodiment of mindfulness — the philosophy and practice of living in the moment that is both timeless and trendy. Also, instead of going through the prescribed motions by rote, they use all five senses to experience beauty to the fullest at every seasonal turn. And the matcha that is the end product of their labors looks delicious. (Though as a fan of matcha in just about anything, I may be prejudiced.)

Every Day a Good Day (Nichinichi Kore Kojitsu)
Rating
Run Time 100 mins.
Language JAPANESE

Known for his violent disruptions of conventions both social and cinematic, beginning with his 2005 debut “The Whispering of the Gods,” Omori would seem to be out of his element in this decidedly nonviolent story. But he and his staff have created a Japan-esque paradise, where the distractions of the outside world, if not always its tragedies, are subsumed into a regime of beauty, order and, as paradoxical as it may sound, freedom.

His heroine is Noriko (Haru Kuroki), whom we first see as a 20-year-old college student in 1993. At the urging of her mother, Noriko and her cousin Michiko (Mikako Tabe) start tea ceremony classes at the nearby home of the elderly Takeda-sensei (Kirin Kiki). Under her watchful eye and strict, if supportive, instructions, they bumble through the basics, from the proper way to fold a fukusa (small cloth) to the correct way to enter a room. When Noriko, a logical type, questions this ritual, sensei just laughs. “You don’t have to understand what it means,” she says. First master form, she advises, “then you can pour your heart into it.”

As the months and years pass, Noriko faces one crisis after another outside the teahouse — she fails to find a job after graduation and a boyfriend dumps her. Then, when she finally gets to know her way around a tea kettle, a high school girl (Mizuki Yamashita) joins the lessons — and proves to be a prodigy. Feeling outclassed and outcast, Noriko breaks down.

Drawn from Morishita’s own life over the course of a quarter century, these incidents are sketched rather than fully developed. But in the course of her practice, Noriko slowly learns the truth of the film’s title, taken from an ancient saying on Takeda-sensei’s kakejiku (wall hanging): Every day is a good day. Pay attention, the tea ceremony teaches, and the smallest things, such as the sound of water dripping from the tea ladle, come to express the wonder of the present moment.

As Takeda-sensei the late Kirin Kiki, in one of her final performances, embodies that way of life perfectly. A true sage, on screen and off.