A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959)

Masahiko Shimazu and Koji Shitara in Good Morning
Good Morning is, maybe, lesser Ozu, but that's because the director himself set the standard so high -- and perhaps because in some ways it's a reworking of I Was Born, But... (1932) without the depth and clarity of the silent film's themes. We are deep into postwar Japan here, with modernization and the youth culture threatening some of the values and traditions of the country. The families in Good Morning live in a new suburb, but are struggling with problems that still afflict the middle class: unemployment, saving for retirement, keeping up with the Joneses, and so on. The two young sons of Keitaro (Chishu Ryu) and Tamiko Hayashi (Kuniko Miyake), Minoru (Koji Shitara) and Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu) have been sneaking out to watch TV at their neighbors, an unconventional young couple who are scorned by others in the community because "they wear pajamas in the middle of the day" and the woman is said to be a singer in a nightclub. When the parents forbid them from going there, the boys demand that Keitaro buy them a TV set, and throw a tantrum when he refuses. He tells them they talk too much, and Minoru, the older son, retorts that it's adults who talk too much, wasting their breath on meaningless exchanges like "good morning" and "good night" and on small talk. Banished to their room Minoru and Isamu take a vow that they won't speak to adults anymore -- even to their parents and teachers. The vow backfires on them when they're unable to relay the message that they're supposed to bring their lunch money to school, but it also causes trouble when the boys' failure to exchange greetings like "good morning" is interpreted as a reflection of their parents' attitude toward the neighbors. Ozu and co-scenarist Kogo Noda develop this premise into what is essentially a situation comedy, but one that illuminates both the essentials of small talk as a social lubricant and its limitations when it comes to deeper relationships: A shy young man and woman are obviously drawn to each other, but they can't find a way to verbalize their mutual attraction, and at the film's end are shown standing on the platform waiting for a train, both unable to get past talking about the weather. That Ozu manages to introduce layers of meaning into a comedy full of juvenile fart jokes is a tribute to his genius.