Tuesday, July 29, 2014

OHAYO (Good Morning)

Good Morning starts with schoolboys coming home from classes while playing a farting game. It's the sort of breezy gag (if you'll pardon the pun) you wouldn't normally expect from the late Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, but it's an integral part of his bullet-proof plotting for this gently burlesque mosaic comedy, one that treats the director's regular theme of the passing of time with a whole other lightness and bonhomie. The four schoolboys returning home are neighbours from a low-income Tokyo suburb who spend their evenings gathering to watch sumo wrestling on a neighbour's television. As children, they are not yet fully conversant in the rigid social codes that underline adult society, and as such brothers Minoru (Koji Shitara) and Izamu (Masahiko Shimazu), fed up with being told off by their parents (Kuniko Miyake and Chishu Ryu) for being inconvenient chatterboxes, decide to stop speaking altogether until the parents relent and buy them their own TV set.

     It's an unlikely possibility in an impoverished neighbourhood where many are unemployed or earn just enough to scrape along, but such is Mr. Ozu and his regular screenwriter Kogo Noda's exquisite narrative control that Good Morning works simultaneously as a gentle, rueful fable of childhood lessons and a humanist, slice-of-life tale of community. The farting competition from the early scenes reappears regularly as another symptom of the kids' wish to escape a far too serious and feckless adult world where grown-ups keep saying niceties they don't mean and never cut to the chase. Mr. Ozu juxtaposes Minoru and Izamu's silence with the continual comedy of errors born out of the local gossips who seem to relish every tiny humiliation, while positing the true spirit of community as self-reliant and generous; the result is an elaborate lattice of resilience and character that underlines his kind observation of a society in flux between a painful past and an uncertain future.

     Here, that observation is presented in a sort of divertimento of deadpan, visual humour that often reminds of the great French master Jacques Tati in its almost geometric, elaborately presented wry gags, infused by Toshiro Mayuzumi's chirpy, Mozartian score with a mischievous glee, eventually leading to everything being put back in its proper place. Good Morning is a lovely, lovely film.

OHAYO
Japan 1959
94 minutes
Cast Keiji Sada, Yoshiko Kuga, Chishu Ryu, Kuniko Miyake, Haruko Sugimura, Koji Shitara, Masahiko Shimazu, Kyoko Izumi, Toyo Takahashi, Sadako Sawamura, Eijiro Tono, Teruko Nagaoka, Eiko Miyoshi, Haruo Tanaka, Akira Oizumi
Director Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters Mr. Ozu and Kogo Noda; cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta (colour); composer Toshiro Mayuzumi; art director Tatsuo Hamada; editor Yoshiyasu Hamamura; producer Shizuo Yamanouchi; production company Shochiku Eiga
Screened July 22nd 2014, Lisbon (DVD)


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