Thursday, December 05, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Good Morning (1959)

Last summer I very much enjoyed two films from Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, EQUINOX FLOWER (1958) and LATE AUTUMN (1960).

Thanks to this fall's Criterion sale I acquired more Ozu films, and tonight I watched his comedy GOOD MORNING (1959), originally titled OHAYO in its native Japan.

The film focuses on a pair of young boys (Koji Shitara and the adorable Masahiko Shimazu) who want their father to buy a television. After being chastised by their parents (Chishu Ryu and Kuniko Miyake) for their loud, rude behavior, the boys go on strike, refusing to speak.

This 94-minute film is about much more than that, however; it's a portrait of a small community, where the houses are so close together the occupants are practically living in each other's laps! There's little privacy, as neighbors walk in and out of one another's homes; there are unkind gossips on one end of the spectrum and those who offer acts of kindness on the other. And in the midst of it all, could romance be blooming between Setsuko (Yoshko Kuga) and Heiichiro (Keiji Sada)?

One of the movie's very interesting themes is encroaching Westernization in Japan, from TV to clothes to baseball to English lessons -- the little boy, Isamu, is given to calling out "I love you!" in English when he leaves a room -- and the boys' behavior seems to reflect a more Western attitude as well. Their loud, whining rebellion seems very much at odds with traditional Japanese manners; meanwhile their placid mother outwardly seems completely unperturbed, just saying what a nuisance they're being. I couldn't help wondering if she were really that calm or inwardly having a nervous breakdown!

As I watched the movie, I couldn't help thinking of the old saying "The more things change, the more they stay the same." There's concern expressed that TV will turn Japan into a nation of idiots, and the boys' obsession mirrors that which some boys (or girls) today have for computer games and anything with "screens." A scene near the end could easily still take place today, substituting the delivery of either a big-screen high-definition TV or a new computer or game system.

The one thing about this film I found mystifying was the boys' constant bathroom humor, not that dissimilar from a couple of unfortunate moments which turned up in Disney's brand-new FROZEN (2013). I guess in that regard nothing much has changed in the ensuing decades either. The scenes with a neighbor boy who has "digestive issues" were downright odd. However, there was so much I enjoyed that these bits didn't mar the film for me.

As with EQUINOX FLOWER and LATE AUTUMN, the color photography by Yuharu Atsuta is sumptuous, with fantastic pops of red and green scattered about the picture -- a tea kettle here, a lampshade there. The look of the film is one of the things I enjoyed the most. I also liked the uplifting musical score by Toshiro Mayuzumi.

Several members of the cast of GOOD MORNING were also in the other Ozu films I watched. It's enjoyable seeing members of his "stock company" turn up in each film.

Sadly, handsome leading man Keiji Sada died in a car accident in 1964, just 37 years old. Unfortunately, that's one more thing which still happens in today's world.

GOOD MORNING can be rented from ClassicFlix or Netflix.


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