Wed, 23 Oct 2019

Good Morning (Ohayo)

Director: Yasujir Ozu
Screenplay: Kgo Noda & Yasujir Ozu
Stars: Masuo Fujiki (Zen), Yoshiki Kuga (Setsuko Arita), Kuniko Miyake (Tamiko), Eiko Miyoshi (Grandma Haraguchi), Teruko Nagaoka (Mrs. Tomizawa), Chishu Ryu (Keitaro Hayashi), Keiji Sata (Heichiro Fukui), Koji Shigaragi (Minoru), Masahiko Shimazu (Isamu), Hajime Shirata (Kozo), Haruko Sugimura (Kikue Haraguchi), Toyo Takahashi (Shige Okubo), Haruo Tanaka (Haraguchi), Eijirô Tono (Tomizawa)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1959
Country: Japan
Good Morning

Good Morning

Especially in the West, Japanese director Yasujir Ozu is best known for somber, bittersweet family dramas, the peak of which is undoubtedly the emotionally devastating Tokyo Story (1953). As a result, many viewers find it surprising that Ozu began his cinematic career in the silent era writing jokes and gags for other filmmakers, and some of his earliest directorial efforts were comedies that feature broad physical comedy and scatological humor. But, because he eventually settled into a rhythm of more serious dramatic fare, his quirky late-career comedy Good Morning (Ohayo)-which begins with a farting contest and ends with a visual gag involving soiled underwear-may look to many like an anomaly, when it is, in fact, a melding of the tendencies from his early and late career.

Set in a close-knit housing development in modern (late 1950s) suburban Tokyo, Good Morning is an amusing and knowing joke on everyday civilized formalities and the sometimes inane nature of human communication, especially within families and between neighbors. The story, which reworks several themes and narrative devices from Ozu's 1932 silent film I Was Born, But ..., is viewed mostly through the eyes of two brothers, Minoru (Koji Shigaragi) and Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu), respectively aged 13 and 7, who impose a vow of silence on themselves when their parents refuse to submit to the ultimate consumer enterprise of purchasing a television. As they are now, in the late '50s electronics and appliances were important signs of social standing and economic achievement, and Minoru and Isamu feel left out because their neighbors have a TV and they don't. Although Minoru and Isamu's parents can afford one, they are reluctant to get a TV because the father (Chish Ry) has heard that TV "will produce 100 million idiots."

The two boys impose silence on themselves not only as a protest against their parents' refusal to purchase a TV, but also because they find most adult chatter to be banal and inane. Phrases such as "Good morning" are, to them, utterly meaningless and, thus, pointless. Their English teacher understands the boys' position, saying, "Well, what they say is true enough. But, then, everyone has to use words like that. And, perhaps they aren't really so unnecessary after all. The world would be rather dreary otherwise."

At the same time, the adults around them are embroiled in their own mundane dramas, including the mystery of what happened to the local women's club dues. Mrs. Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura), the treasurer, is suspected of taking the dues because she has recently purchased a new washing machine, but because of social formalities, none of the other women will come out and directly accuse her. Instead, they talk in oblique circles and then gossip amongst themselves. The story takes a further comic turn when the mystery is solved (it turns out that Mrs. Haraguchi's elderly mother had the dues the whole time), but she assumes that, because Minoru and Isamu do not say "Good morning" to her the next day, that there must still be bitterness about the ordeal in the neighborhood. Thus, seemingly meaningless phrases turn out to have real significance, although not in a way that is necessarily specific to the actual words.

Ozu has been described as the most Japanese of all directors, and the backdrop of his 53 films was almost always the family. As Donald Richie pointed out in his excellent book-length study of Ozu, "The life with which Ozu is concerned in so many of his films ... is traditional Japanese bourgeois life. It is a life singularly lacking in the more dramatic heights and depths found in a society less conspicuously constrained. This does not imply, however, that such a traditional life is less affected by the universal human verities; on the contrary, birth, love, marriage, companionship, loneliness, death, all loom particularly large in a traditional society because so much else is ruled out." Richie hits on an important point here, and one that many viewers will mistake for a lack of depth or dramatic range. Because Ozu is concerned primarily with middle-class suburban lives, his films lack some of the more obvious dramatic intensity of melodramas dealing with the wealthy or social dramas about the downtrodden. By focusing intently on seemingly small areas of bourgeois life, he expands everyday details into larger events of human drama and comedy.

One of his last films, Good Morning found Ozu again working with many of his regular collaborators, including screenwriter Kgo Noda, with whom he wrote more than 25 features; cinematographer Yharu Atsuta, who shot nearly all of his films dating back to the late 1920s; and many of his favorite actors, eight of whom also appeared in Tokyo Story (including Chish Ry, Haruko Sugimura, and Kuniko Miyake). The film's comedy is spry and clever, weaving together the aforementioned obsession with farting (which is rendered non-naturalistically with musical tones of varying pitches), visual puns, and embarrassment. The laughs never feel forced or obvious, largely because they are thoroughly grounded in recognizable social truths, and some of the film's greatest amusements arrive at the most unexpected of moments (such as when one of the neighbors drunkenly wanders into the wrong house after a celebratory evening at the bar). Atsuta's cinematography (this is one of only three color films Ozu directed) is bright and clean, and the musical score by prolific composer Toshir Mayuzumi (he later scored Ozu's 1961 film The End of Summer) is light and jaunty, sounding extremely similar to Alain Romans's work in Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1954), a film whose acute and sublime sense of social observation merits comparison to Ozu's work here. Light-hearted while still taking pointed jabs at important social imperatives, Good Morning is both humorous entertainment and meaningful social satire.

Good Morning Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio1.37:1
Audio

Japanese Linear PCM 1.0 monaural

SubtitlesEnglish
Supplements

  • I Was Born, But . . . (1932) with a 2008 score by Donald Sosin
  • Video interview with film scholar David Bordwell
  • Video essay on Ozu's use of humor by critic David Cairns
  • Fragment of A Straightforward Boy (1929)
  • Essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    SRP$39.95
    Release DateMay 16, 2017

    COMMENTS
    The presentation on Criterion's new Good Morning Blu-ray is a quantum leap over their previously available DVD, which came out back in 2000 (Criterion had also released the film on laserdisc in the late '90s). The earlier transfer felt like you were watching videotape, with a soft image that betrayed quite a bit of damage and wear. The new 4K digital transfer, which was made from the original 35mm camera negative and is identical to the one on the Shochiku Blu-ray released in September 2016, is gorgeous throughout. Colors are stronger and richer, although the overall color palette now leans toward a slightly greenish hue. The image is sharp and nicely detailed (notice how you can make out the finest nuances in the patterns on characters' clothes), and digital restoration has removed all the white speckling and signs of age that marred the DVD. The lossless Linear PCM monaural audio, transferred from the original 35mm soundtrack negative, is also superb in clarity and lack of aural artifacts (the DVD had quite a bit of ambient hiss). And, while the DVD had no supplements, the new Blu-ray includes an 18-minute video interview with film scholar David Bordwell about the evolution of Ozu's style and a 17-minute video essay by film critic David Cairns about the use of humor in Ozu's oeuvre humorously titled "Transcendental Style and Flatulence." We also get a 14-minute fragment from Ozu's 1929 silent comedy A Straightforward Boy and the entire 1932 feature I Was Born, But ... with a 2008 score by Donald Sosin. I Was Born, But ... has been available as part of the Eclipse "Silent Ozu" boxset, but here it has been given what looks to be a 1080p upscaling (although it still needs digital restoration, as there is plenty of wear and tear on the print and some instability).

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

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