Sunday, 13 January 2013

Good Morning (1959) - Yasujiro Ozu

There’s always been an itch that certain directors get once they’re established that can only be scratched by revisiting one of their earlier films. Hitchcock famously remade The Man Who Knew Too Much as did DeMille with The Ten Commandments. It’s not something that happens so much nowadays, most directors are happy enough to recut their films instead. Sometimes it works, Blade Runner only really started earning any real kudos after Ridley Scott went back in with his scissors and chopped out the naff narration and altered that ending for instance. Then of course there are the times it doesn’t work quite so well and only ends up annoying the people who adored the original film. Cough cough, George Lucas and his little sticky CGI hands.

Yasujiro Ozu felt the urge to remake not one, not two but three of his own films during his career. All three arrived one after the other at the end of his career. Good Morning is a retelling of his silent great I Was Born But…, and was the first time he attempted a direct remake. Of course it could be argued that after a certain point in his career Ozu actually made the same film over and over, since most of his films feature the same plot of a middle class family trying to marry off one of their daughters.

As is usual with Ozu films the story itself is very simple, two boys Minoru and his incredibly sweet younger brother Isamu become obsessed with television after their beatnik neighbours buy a goggle box. They first beg, then scream and eventually go on a silent strike when their parents refuse to buy a TV set. Onto this Ozu hangs his observations of Japanese life in a Tokyo suburb. He sets the scene by opening the film with a misunderstanding about some unpaid money. Through this we get to visit each of the three main households in the film and meet the main players within the first ten minutes. It’s an excellent way of introducing the characters and giving a feel of how everything fits together spatially.

Good Morning seems destined never to make it onto any list of Ozu’s greatest works, but I think it’s one of his finest films. It’s quite different for him it’s funnier than most for a start, there’s even a running gag throughout the whole film about farting. The main difference between Good Morning and Ozu’s more famous films though is that this time the film isn’t shot from the parents perspective but from the children’s. Yes it’s still centered around a middle class Japanese family, and yes there is a hint of romance between their daughter and the kids English teacher. But getting her hitched to him isn’t the central theme this time ‘round. It’s still instantly recognizable as being an Ozu film though, the obligatory static low angle camera set up, scenes taking place at a train station and Chishu Ryu are all present and correct. As are the boiling kettles, clocks with pendulums and kids with baseball caps.

Good Morning is far lighter than most of the Ozu’s other work and at just a tad over ninety minutes flies by and is over before you know it. His use of colour after so many black & white films is a revelation. All reds and greens with almost every shot having one bright red object somewhere in the frame. By using the children rather than the parents as a voice, Ozu gets to wag his finger at certain things such as the mindless chit chat of everyday life, and of course the idea that television is only good for one thing - ‘producing 100 million idiots.’ Obviously he was worried about the negative effect television was having on cinema attendance.

This is a perfect film for anyone unfamiliar with the films of Yasujiro Ozu, and essential viewing for those who’ve already seen his ‘classics’. I’m not really sure what the conclusion of the film means though or even if Good Morning has an overall message beyond the obvious ‘the future is coming deal with it’. But that's neither here nor there since for the short time it's on screen you'll find yourself living in Ozu's world. Which is a great place to be.

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