Good Morning (DVD)

For years, two widely accepted bits of received wisdom concerning Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, Late Spring) have failed to hold up to scrutiny, virtually contradicting one another: that he essentially remade the same film throughout his career, and that, as the "most Japanese" of Japanese directors, his work doesn't translate easily to Western audiences. Ozu may have returned time and again to the same theme of familial relations, but it's hard to imagine a topic more variable or universal. He also adhered to a series of Hollywood-free stylistic choices with the tenacity of Altman—in Ozu's case, stories that unfold slowly within meaningfully arranged settings, filmed in long takes from the level of someone kneeling on a tatami mat. These techniques certainly have their roots in Japanese theater and visual arts, but they're so instantly recognizable as Ozu's that you might as easily call them Ozuian as Japanese. A late-career 1959 film rarely seen in this country, Good Morning (Ohayo) finds Ozu expanding the definition of family, as he did with its immediate predecessor, Floating Weeds. Instead of a traveling troupe of actors, however, Ozu here looks at the unspoken codes and lines of communication that define a suburban neighborhood. Tightly connected in every sense—each neighbor's front door essentially opens to another's front yard—it's the sort of place where the purchase of a washing machine is both big news and an unmistakable, if acceptable, gesture of upward mobility. Two sumo-fixated brothers upset the neighborhood's delicate balance, however, when they demand a television like the one belonging to two bohemian neighbors. When refused, the older boy delivers a speech against the vacuousness of adult small talk and both retreat stubbornly into silence. A knowing comedy, Good Morning isn't one of Ozu's indisputable masterpieces, but it serves as a fine example of everything he does well. With minimal exposition, a master's command of visuals, a sense of humor not above fart jokes, and a hopefulness snatched from despair, Ozu establishes the complex relationships that govern his chosen arena, the ever-increasing consumerism and globalism seeping into it, and the way simple greetings keep the world turning, both in a Tokyo suburb and everywhere else.

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