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By 1959, Yasujiro Ozu had been making films for more than 30 years and was one of Japan's most respected directors. His elegant and measured films were suffused with unexpressed emotion; comedy, when present, was quiet and gentle. Good Morning (Ohayo,1959), Ozu's 50th film and second in color, has much of the same visual style of his earlier films - the low-angle "tatami shots," the cuts instead of dissolves, the static, immobile camera - but this time, the humor is more boisterous. Instead of discretion, there is a running gag about flatulence. The film's silences don't represent quiet longing, they are a protest by two boys against adult hypocrisy, and a gambit to force their parents to buy a television set.
Good Morning has been compared to I Was Born But..., or described as a remake of that 1932 Ozu silent film. But while the two films share some elements - both are about two young brothers who go on strike against their parents, and relationships within their their suburban community - 1959 Japan was vastly different from the pre-war 1932 nation, and Good Morning reflects those differences. Japan was in the midst of a sumo wrestling craze, and television sales were booming so fans could watch the matches. In the film, western-style consumerism is sweeping the neighborhood. Housewives want washing machines, children want television. One couple, apparently childless, welcomes the neighborhood boys to watch TV in their home, although the parents disapprove of both television and the couple, who is seen coming home in the early morning, scatting a jazz tune, hinting at their bohemian lifestyle and the pervasiveness of Western culture. The other adults in the film engage in the type of mindless chitchat about the weather that passes for good manners, instead of saying what's really on their minds. The wives and mothers gossip among themselves about their neighbors, and there's a subplot about missing women's club dues. The men worry about unemployment, and a single man and single woman can't find a way to express their attraction to each other.
Ozu said about Good Morning, "Human beings love idle prattle, but when it comes to saying something important at critical moments, they get tongue-tied. I wanted to make that the subject of a film." By the time he actually made the film, his focus for it had changed. "Although this story which was conceived a while ago had a rather bitter edge, as I got older, I was prompted by box office considerations to make a sidesplitting comedy." A lot of that comedy comes from the boys' fascination with breaking wind, which was based on an experience Ozu had during the making his 1932 film, The Lady and the Beard. He recalled that his overworked, overtired crew worked five overnights in a row, and amused themselves on those long nights by pushing each others' bellies and passing gas. Of course, Ozu's original idea for the film, the inability of people to "say something important" is still very much a part of Good Morning. The young brothers say that adults talk too much; it's one of the reasons for their vow of silence. The film's final scene, with the two would-be lovers on the train station platform exquisitely drives the point home.
Little seen outside of Japan during Ozu's lifetime, his films have gained greater international recognition in the fifty years since his death. In a recent New Yorker review of Good Morning, Richard Brody writes that Ozu's "sense of generational conflict in a society at risk from within is here at its sharpest and most anarchic." TV Guide calls it "another Ozu gem, a covertly sophisticated ensemble piece scripted with the intricacy and precision of a well-constructed Restoration comedy of manners."
Director: Yazujiro Ozu
Screenplay: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Cinematography: Yuharo Atsuta
Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Art Direction: Tatsuo Hamada
Music: Toshiro Mayuzumi
Principal Cast: Keiji Sata (Hechiro Fukui), Yoshiko Kuga (Setsuko Arita), Chishu Ryu (Keitaro Hayashi), Kuniko Miyake (Tamiko), Haruko Sugimura (Kikue Haraguchi), Koji Shigaraki (Minoru), Masahiko Shimazu (Isamu), Hajime Shirata (Kozo), Haruo Tanaka (Haraguchi), Eiko Miyoshi (Grandma Haraguchi)
by Margarita Landazuri