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With: Masahiko Shimazu, Koji Shidara, Kuniko Miyake, Yoshigo Kuga, Chishu Ryu, Haruko Sugimura
Written by: Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda
Directed by: Yasujiro Ozu
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 05/12/1959

Good Morning (1959)

4 Stars (out of 4)

TV or Not TV

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Good Morning was the first film I'd ever seen by the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, who is perhaps better known for his powerful Tokyo Story (1953). As a comedy, Good Morning doesn't affect us in quite the same way as Ozu's great dramas, and, in fact, its reputation does not rank it with Ozu's more serious works. But as an introduction to Ozu, it's a perfect film. And, in addition, I think it has more to offer artistically than its reputation would suggest.

Good Morning is the first Ozu to be released on DVD, thanks to the Criterion Collection. It concerns a small community of families in Japan, where the neighbors all know each other and are involved in each other's business. One family, the Hayashis, has two young sons who want a television so that they can watch Sumo wrestling. Their father refuses, having heard that television will produce "100 million idiots" (looking at the success of the recent Survivor, he may have been right). So the boys take a vow of silence until they get their TV.

Though the movie can be described by that simple "TV Guide" entry, it's not the only thing going on in the story. Ozu uses the very fabric of the community and the neighbors as grist for his story. The gossip of the neighbors and the pestering of door-to-door salesmen ties both directly and deceptively.

One house in the neighborhood, belonging to a young couple, boasts a TV set. All the kids of the neighborhood gather there daily to watch wrestling. The couple wear their pajamas all day long, sing scat jazz music to each other, and hang Hollywood movie posters (The Defiant Ones) on their wall. Needless to say, they're the outcasts of the story. At one point, the woman of the house goes looking for another apartment because "the neighbors are too nosy."

Good Morning also brings up the very interesting notion of language and communication. Before the young boys take their vow of silence, they berate their father for his daily "small talk", saying "good morning" and discussing the weather. The boys do not wish to join this world of avoiding real conversation. Indeed, another young couple in the story who see each other every day, and are obviously in love, can't ever get past speaking in meaningless pleasantries. The boys on the other hand, constantly indulge in "fart" games, which many reviewers see as a flaw in the movie, but in fact shows the comfort level and fearlessness of young boys. They don't need any phony talk in their world.

Good Morning is technically a remake of an early Ozu silent film called I Was Born, But... (1932) in which two young boys stage a hunger strike against their father's subservient behavior around his high-ranking co-workers. Obviously Good Morning now has the opportunity to incorporate spoken language and television into its plot, making it more modern. I haven't seen I Was Born, But..., but I imagine Good Morning probably holds up better.

Ozu was one of the most delicate of film directors. He rarely moved his camera (it doesn't move at all in Good Morning). And he preferred to photograph from low angles, including the floor or the ground in every shot. His conversations almost always consist of cutting back and forth between two straight-on medium shots. Tellingly, the village in Good Morning lies just below a high grassy hill. When kids are up on the hill, Ozu shoots looking up at them, but when adults are up on the hill, Ozu shoots them straight on. The result of these tactics is a gentle, laid-back storytelling that absorbs us rather than jolting us.

Good Morning is so enjoyable and light-hearted that I would recommend it as good family viewing as well as for die hard film buffs.

The 2000 Criterion DVD release was transferred from a 35mm master print, but, as with all Technicolor movies, the quality is not perfect. Technicolor films do not age well and it's very expensive and time consuming to restore them (see the recent Vertigo and Rear Window as examples). The color on the disc fluctuates back and forth from sharp to pale, probably depending on where the image rested in the roll of film. But this flaw is so minor that your average viewer might never notice it. And the color that remains has been digitally corrected and enhanced as much as possible. The subtitles are crisp and legible. The disc boasts no extras, but the movie is so good it doesn't matter.

I wrote the above review for the 2000 DVD release, with slight modifications. In 2017, Criterion released a splendid Blu-ray edition, featuring a 4K restoration and an uncompressed monaural audio track. As soon as those familiar burlap titles come on, it feels more alive and vibrant than ever before. This release comes with a pair of new extras, a video essay on the use of humor in Ozu's films (this one is the "fartiest" film he ever made), as well as an 18-minute interview with David Bordwell on this film and I Was Born, But....

There is also a 14-minute fragment of a lost Ozu film, A Straightforward Boy (1929), and -- best of all -- I Was Born, But... itself, in its entirety. That and Good Morning are both among my top 5 favorite Ozu films, and it's quite a gift to have them together in this extraordinary release. This is already one of my top favorite Blu-rays of 2017.

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