Friday, May 8, 2009

REVIEW: Good Morning

お早よう (Ohayo)

Released: 1959

Yasujiro Ozu

Keiji Sada
Yoshiko Kuga
Chishu Ryu
Koji Shitara

Masahiko Shimazu

Running time: 94 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

Yasujiro Ozu’s "Good Morning" is what I like to call a “comfort movie.” Like Jacques Tati’s "Mon Oncle" and François Truffaut’s "Small Change", it is not the telling of a narrative so much as a warm invitation to a communal cinematic world for you to explore and enjoy for the film’s duration. Most of the action occurs within a small portion of a neighborhood, providing a cozy familiarity as it dwells on the characters mainly within this selected space while only occasionally venturing to a more commercialized downtown area (which is clearly, and also somewhat comfortingly, a set).

From the first images of high tension towers standing against a clear blue sky, laundry drying on clotheslines and white picket fences, it is clear that this film is going to be about life in the suburbs. It unfolds as a series of episodes that mainly revolve around the Hayashi family. Young brothers Minoru and Isamu spend most of their free time visiting the neighbors to watch Sumo wrestling on television. After being scolded for doing so, they are inspired to rebel against their parents and demand from them a TV set of their own, resorting to a hunger strike and bouts of yelling before finally taking a vow of silence. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hayashi gets caught up in a mystery with the other housewives regarding a collection of missing dues they had recently paid. Mr. Hayashi (played by Ozu regular Chishu Ryu) contends with both his childrens' insolence and the looming, unappealing prospect of retirement. Thrown into this mix are a love interest between two young people, a formidable grandmother who scares away a door-to-door salesman with an intimidatingly long kitchen knife and a fun, spirited bohemian couple.

It is a widely accepted opinion that "Good Morning" is Ozu’s most mainstream effort, the most obvious reason for this point of view easily being the many fart jokes that are scattered throughout it. For the film’s youngsters, flatulence is a sort of sport that they try to perfect by eating pumice stone powder, and one unfortunate boy “loses” time and time again by repeatedly crapping his pants. This motif may sound lewd, but in Ozu’s hands it is tastefully executed (the actual farting noises are funny little “toots” that sound like they come from some kind of horn instrument). Besides, the director has more serious matters on his mind, namely the problems with communication in Japanese society. The gossip exchanged between the housewives eventually takes a nasty turn when a misunderstanding soon makes Mrs. Hayashi an unfair victim. The meaninglessness of everyday small talk is directly addressed in the clash between Minoru and his father (leading to the silence strike, which serves just as much a rebuttal as a form of protest) and is reiterated through the two potential lovers’ banal, painfully repetitive conversation on a train platform. This relevant topic is handled admirably by Ozu, who devotes just as much attention to providing a pleasurable viewing experience for his audience. This quality thus perhaps makes "Good Morning" an ideal place to start with the great filmmaker, providing a most satisfying serving of Ozu Lite before the would-be newcomer moves on to his more serious offerings.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.

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