Good Morning

Studio: Criterion

Jun 14, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

When Japanese filmmaker  Yasujir┼Ź Ozu released 1959’s Good Morning, it was the beginning of the final chapter of his life. It broke from the more melancholic, introspective style of Tokyo Story, Late Spring, and Early Summer, three films that helped to define both Ozu’s outstanding career and postwar Japanese cinema. A comedy—and with its farting motif, a seemingly lowbrow comedy, to boot—Good Morning was an anomaly in a storied career. In fact, it was treated with a bit of puzzlement upon release, as its recurring farting seemed so uncouth for such a sophisticated, refined filmmaker with a track record of sophistication and class.

But oh, what an anomaly it is! The plot is simple enough: two young boys have become enthralled with their neighbor’s television, and want their father to buy them a television. When the father tells them no, they are unsurprisingly upset, but they decide to take a vow of silence until the father relents, and seeing as their parents take this with a bit of amusement, they decide to run away. When they are found, they return home, and in so doing, they discover that their father had quietly bought a television.  Ultimately, the boys are happy, and Good Morning ends on an upbeat note. On reflection, one soon realizes that beneath the fart jokes and silly physical humor that seems so different from his best work, Ozu has delivered another masterful film dealing with his recurring theme, the drama that could be found within the mundane dynamics of middle class family life.

While family is a predominant theme in Good Morning, its greatest theme involves the breakdown of communication. It’s a theme Ozu dealt with throughout the entirety of his career, and it happens constantly throughout Good Morning. The boys stop talking to their parents. A neighbor mistakes their silence as an insult when she greets them. The youngest boy says “I Love You” in English as a salutation that he doesn’t understand. The mother and her neighbor fall out because of a misplaced payment, each not believing the other; she insists that she gave the money to the neighbor’s mother, but the mother failed to tell her daughter. An old man’s wife mistakes his farts for him calling her name.  One boy attempts to compete with the boys in their farting contest, but he constantly fails—soiling his pants in the process.  All of these misunderstandings often have humorous results, but the laughter that arises comes with a thoughtfulness about how unnecessary these misconstructions are and how easily they could be resolved through straightforward talk and articulating what it is they want to say.

To highlight just how prominent the theme of miscommunication ran through Ozu’s career, two very early silent films are offered. The first, 1932’s I Was Born, But…, is considered by some to have been the prototype for Good Morning. While it’s not exactly that, there are elements that are similar. In this film, when two brothers discover that their father was not the revered man they believed him to be by catching him being the buffoon in front of his boss, and in upset, they go on a hunger strike. They don’t understand that his actions were meant to belittle their honor; instead, the father was ingratiating himself with his employer so that he could and would succeed and earn a promotion. Though the buildup of this film in the first disc’s documentaries might lead to slight disappointment, the film itself is excellent on its own merits. The second film, 1929’s A Straightforward Boy, is a sliver of one of his earliest works, a fragment that finds him first exploring the nature of the father/son relationship. Too short and disjointed, it’s an interesting curiosity, but nothing more to the casual viewer.

Good Morning was only the second color film of his career, but you’d never know it, as its colors are so lush and extravagant. Bright and sunny, the colors radiate the innocence and the youthfulness of its young characters. Ozu’s cinematic tricks are brilliant; he is a master of the subtle perspective, and it isn’t until your third or fourth viewing that you notice that the majority of the film is shot from a short distance from the floor, giving the viewer a kid’s-eye view of the adult world. Additionally, Ozu plays with parallels; one scene that he utilizes throughout the film is a shot of the alleyway outside of the boys’ house. In the background is a hill, and running parallel with the flat road on top of the hill is another road, and whenever action takes place on the bottom road, action also takes place on the road at the top of the screen.  It’s brilliantly shot and it is intoxicatingly wonderful to watch; one wonders if Jacques Tati saw this film, as these visual gags and tricks are quite similar to what he would do with Playtime.

Good Morning is a brilliant late-period work, a masterpiece of subtlety and bluntness that is as striking today as it was in 1959, one that captures a slice of life in a world that was rapidly changing. Yet for all of the technological, social, and cultural changes that were on the way, the themes Ozu captured here are universal, and the way he captured the innocence of childhood and the problems of interpersonal communications still ring true fifty-eight years later. Good Morning is a truly timeless film, and a cornerstone in the already-impressive filmography of one of Japanese cinema’s true geniuses.


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