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Good Morning (Ohayo) (Yasujiro Ozu) 1959

    Set mainly in four homes in a small 1950ís Japanese village, Yasujiro Ozuís Good Morning (Ohayo) is an exceptionally wise comedy. It appears outwardly gentle, but hides a great deal of political content. Sure, there are some jokes about bodily functions here, but much of the filmís humor comes from the pretense that makes a fart joke a faux pas, not from the flatulence itself. That seems to be Ozuís game. He takes down our defenses by showing us characters that are exceptionally mundane working-class folks, then uses their petty concerns to make broader social commentary. That he seems to think their concerns are petty is a suspicion that occasionally arises, but generally he seems to legitimately care about the characters on display. He takes the camera literally down to the level of a seated character, and his camera looks at them head-on while they speak. He seems to suggest that heís interested in examining these normally unexamined characters, but his stylistic choices could easily be interpreted as condescension. After all, that same focused attention almost feels like a study of these ďcommonĒ people. That he feels compelled to study them so intently suggests he might not quite relate to or understand them.

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Notice in these successive shots how Ozu looks at his characters, dead-on. This is typical of his style.

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    The temptation certainly exists to just read Good Morning as a slice of life tale that shows the foibles of the people in the town, but there may be a bit more to it than that. Although Isamu, the small child who follows his brother throughout the film is adorable, the goal of their protest (they want a television) seems less than noble. Also, Isamuís mimicry appears to be endearing, but isnít it also a tad creepy that heís being led into a strike that he doesnít quite understand? This ambiguity seems to extend to the other characters. Ozu brings up the effects of Japanís mandatory retirement several times during the film. He seems quite critical of the system, as it forces ďretiredĒ workers to act as door-to-door salespeople that seem to function more as a burden than a service to their customers. Still, when his main adult characters realize their own retirement is impending, they simply shrug it off without any real planning. He doesnít necessarily decry their behavior, but the film almost seems as contemptuous of it as it is of the system that forces the predicament. The filmís greatest amount of vitriol is spent condemning the communication gap between generations. Quite simply, the film thinks true communication between generations is impossible. It could be argued that Ozu raises such issues precisely to show that his love for this class of people extends beyond whatever faults they might have. Still, the decision to end many of his scenes the way he does makes the film feel less like a collection of slices of life and more like judgements of that lifestyle. I havenít seen enough of Ozuís to judge his attitudes, but his established reputation as a great cinematic humanist seems somewhat simpleminded. As admittedly funny as it is, Good Morning doesnít seem content to simply giggle at the poor folks, but instead creates a profoundly stated comic view on society. This is a much more complex, ambiguous, and challenging film that most reduce it to.

****


11/07/01


Jeremy Heilman