filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu’s late-period picture, Good Morning (Ohayō), is a curious, but amusing,
slice-of-life portrait of a suburban neighborhood in contemporary (circa 1959)
Japan. Ozu, mostly known for the gendai-geki
film genre, i.e., modern dramas about family life and social conditions, also
made a few comedies. He was a genius at depicting relationships between parents
and children (Tokyo Story, 1953, is
arguably his most admirable work), and Good
Morning presents something of a parable about how a couple of young
schoolboys influence an entire community of suspicious and gossipy housewives
and lackadaisical “salary men” husbands.
Western audience will deem the comedy subtle;
cultural differences between East and West, especially when it comes to
bathroom humor, decidedly determine how funny someone will think Good Morning really is. There are a lot
of fart jokes in the film. In fact, Ozu uses farting as a way that characters
communicate, especially the children. The schoolboys assign status to how
easily one can blow wind by pushing an imaginary button on a forehead.
Inability to produce a toot results in minor ostracization. It must be said
that the children’s farts don’t sound like the real thing—they are high-pitched
and somewhat musical in tone.
adults, on the other hand, produce lower-toned flatulence that is more
realistic. In their case, the noises are often confused with real words. In one
scene, a man is dressing for the day and pleasantly lets two or three bursts
fly. Each time, his wife enters from the other room and asks, “Did you call?”
He shakes his head no, and she leaves. It happens again and she returns. “Did
you say something?”
story, such as it is, concerns two brothers—probably about nine and six years
of age—who decide to go on a speaking strike until their parents buy a new
television set (all the rage, apparently, in those days). The boys are also
rebelling against the grown-ups’ use of meaningless greetings to fill up air
space—“Good morning,” “How are you,” “I’m fine,” “Nice day,” etc.
the same time, the adult women in the block gossip and imagine faults in their
neighbors, all based on misunderstandings and a lack of real communication—which is what Ozu’s film is really about. He
seems to be saying that in order for everyone to get along in a modern society,
we need to say what’s truthfully on our minds.
in gorgeous Technicolor, Good Morning differs
from Ozu’s more solemn works that have a restrained editorial pace and
meditational camera work. This one is lively, is accompanied by a “funny”
musical score, and features many scenes outdoors. The cast is fine, especially
the two boys (played by Shitara Koji and Masahiko Shimazu).
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray features a 4K digital restoration (upgraded
from the label’s previous DVD release) and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
It looks terrific.
more significant, though, is that Criterion has chosen to include as a
supplement Ozu’s acclaimed silent film from 1932, I Was Born, But… Sound films came late to Japan because of the benshi—narrators who performed during
screenings of silent pictures, commenting on the film’s narrative. They had a
powerful hold on the industry. Criterion had previously released this title as
part of an Eclipse box set of early Ozu titles, but here they’ve upgraded the
movie as a Blu-ray. Also a comedy, Born deals
with similar social mores. In this case, the boys influence how their father
deals with his boss, and also how they relate to their school mate, the boss’
son. For my money, despite being a silent picture, I Was Born, But… is better than Good
supplements include a portion of a “lost” Ozu silent short from 1929, A Straightforward Boy; a new interview
with film scholar David Bordwell about the films; and a fascinating video essay
on Ozu’s use of humor by critic David Cairns. Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essay adorns
the inner booklet.
Good Morning is a worthwhile
release from Criterion, especially for aficionados of Japanese cinema. One
viewing, and your perception of farting will be changed forever.