Comedy · Criterion Collection · Japan

#84 Good Morning

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#84 Good Morning

1959 // Japan // Yasujiro Ozu

Criterion Collection (LINK)

The Delightful Charm of Ozu

The first thing that bumps out of my mind while talking about Yasujiro Ozu would be his sweetly melancholic family drama, additionally, it’s also a necessity to mention Tokyo Story (1953) in the same conversation and present it as the epitome of Ozu’s vision. Yet if I have to suggest one film for any Ozu new-comers, I would pick Good Morning without hesitation. On the surface, the film has a lighthearted and delightful story, vivid and robust color scheme utilisation, charming and adorable characters. Ninety minutes just flies by joyously and when the film ends, you would have a wholehearted smile on your face. In the deeper level, the film asks the importance (or the hypocrisy) of day-to-day words of greeting, the disparity of the old and the new in terms of social behavior, culture and technology.

Regarding the old, Good Morning is often considered as a remake of Ozu’s silent comedy I Was Born, But… (1932) since both feathering a pair of young brothers going through strike against their parents as well as some childish jokes among the children in the suburban area. But as soon as the film starts with multiple static shots of the new and compacted suburban houses surrounded fences and small alleys, we get a sense that the community has gone through a drastic change since the 30s. Japan has achieved an economic boost even though they are defeated in WWII, and the fellow citizens, albeit far from being rich, are having a more enjoyable house life. This could be reflected by the introduction of new technology, the television, and the westernised lifestyle epitomised by the young couple in the neighborhood who is believed to be working as a cabaret.

The main plot revolves around the request of a television set from the two young boys of Hayash family, the older rebellious Minoru (Koji Shidara) and the younger adorable follower Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu). They have seen sneaking out to watch sumo on TV while skipping English tutorial at their private teacher’s (Keiji Sada) house. When their mother Tamiko (Kuniko Miyake) rejects their wish and the father Keitaro (Chishu Ryu) scolds them of talking too much, Minoru argues back by stating adults have been saying pointless, ostensibly nice words, like “Good Morning”, without really meaning what they said. As a result, the brothers resort to a vow of silence as a form of strike and, like a screwball comedy, prompts farcical scenarios of misunderstanding at schools and with the neighbourhood.

The enthusiasm towards new technology is not limited to the young generation. Among the housewives of the suburban community, a washing machine has been their gossiping topic, even though it’s mainly related to the missing monthly membership fees of the local women’s club. Tamiko, as the treasurer of the club, claims she had given the membership fee to the chairlady Kikue Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura), yet Haraguchi denies it. As Haraguchi has recently bought a washing machine, the neighbouring women suspects she’s the one telling lies. The back and forth gossip and rumor are like a adult version of the fart jokes played by the children, childish and meaningless except it’s probably harmful in someways. This subplot reinforces the standpoint of the argument raised by Minoru, words are perhaps redundant if solely regards the literal meaning. But Good Morning is not a socially subversive film, it’s not made to defy politeness. The weather talk (“This is a fine day”, “yes it is”) between the English teacher and the Minoru’s aunt Setsuko (Yoshiko Kuga) at the train station near the end of the film is perhaps trivial, yet it’s significant in the sense that it shows the bashfulness as well as affection between the couple, and every relationship is built upon these “pointless” talk.

Comedy is hardly the first thing to come up when we talk about Ozu, yet every Ozu films have a sense of slack humor, often whimsical and humanized instead of laughing-out-loud hilarious. “Isn’t life disappointing”, “yes it is”, the famous quote in Tokyo Story (a comparable conversation to the weather talk aforementioned), is comedic deep down in its core when one eventually realized life is constituted of a series of tragedy and joke. In my opinion, Good Morning is the most delightful talkie Ozu ever made, most likely second by Floating Weeds (1959) which is a bit more bittersweet than delightful, where the burden of life and family obligation are presented in the most minimalistic form. It’s hard to believe, after Good Morning, Ozu would only make four more films before his death. The film is so life-affirming and refreshing even though it’s arguably a modern refinement of his past work, I would easily rank it among the best works Ozu ever made, really, who doesn’t want a young brother as cute as Isamu?

Film Rating: 4.5/5
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