Mantaro UshioKumeko UrabeHaruko SugimuraKoji Mitsui
Good Morning
Remake of: I Was Born, But...
Medium: film
Year: 1959
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Writer: Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Ganjiro Nakamura, Machiko Kyo, Ayako Wakao, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Haruko Sugimura, Hitomi Nozoe, Koji Mitsui, Haruo Tanaka, Yosuke Irie, Hikaru Hoshi, Mantaro Ushio, Kumeko Urabe, Mutsuko Sakura, Natsuko Kahara, Masahiko Shimazu, Michisumi Sugawara, Tatsuo Hanabu, Tsutomu Tanaka, Taro Marui, Osamu Maruyama, Yoshiaki Fujimura
Format: 94 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053390/
Website category: Japanese old
Review date: 28 January 2012
It's funny and likeable, but forget any notion that it's a remake of I Was Born, But...
There are two similarities between them. Firstly, they're both gentle Yasujiro Ozu comedies that comment on Japanese society. Theoretically this makes them the same, but in practice it makes them completely different. His earlier film was skewering the extreme right-wing nationalist warmongering Japan of the 1930s, but it would have been pointless to try to recapture that a quarter of a century later. That Japan was dead. The country had woken up, basically, and set about one of the greatest and most successful social transformations in world history.
Good Morning looks like a 1950s American comedy. People are silly. Ozu's satire is about the way that people, especially in Japan, find it easy to say meaningless phrases as social lubricant, but fail to say anything that matters. The title's important. "Good morning" is one of those phrases, with almost no intrinsic meaning except "I'm alive and so are you". People say it, a lot. One potentially life-changing conversation at the end of the film is entirely comprised of meaningless phrases and so becomes funny in what's not being even hinted at. I'm not sure that Ozu's necessarily criticising, though. The children argue that such conversation is meaningless, but the adults later point out that a little lubrication helps the world go around. Furthermore Ozu's films as a whole are all about leaving things unsaid and take an allusive, oblique approach to narrative. Is he then criticising himself?
He's definitely pointing up the misunderstandings that can arise, though. The housewives in this film are breathtaking. They'll talk garbage to each other and believe it, even when it's based on a misunderstanding that should have been cleared up in minutes.
The story is suburban nonsense. Not much happens. Two boys want their parents to buy a TV and have various brattish tactics to achieve this, starting with nagging and tantrums and then going to the opposite extreme to a silence strike. This inconveniences them more than anyone else and is funny, but it also works really well with the theme. At least they're doing something though, which is more than can be said for the adults. The housewives are idiots. The men are amiably useless, being either drunk, retired, unemployed or just plain clueless. Look at how bad everyone is at interpreting the boys' charades, for instance. At times the film feels like a dissection of incompetent parenting, with adults who can't communicate except in orders and then do nothing when those aren't obeyed. They're disciplinarians, but ineffectual. "How on Earth did I get a daughter like her?"
Note incidentally that at one point a mother's in danger of killing her own children. "Should I put some rat poison on it?" Again that's all down to a lack of communication, although fortunately Ozu is happy merely to dangle the possibility before us.
Fundamentally I didn't care about these people. I was fond of the boys' pretty, cheerful aunt and the English tutor who may or may not have a romantic future together, but that was it. The boys are brats and their parents are worse. What's impressive though is that despite this fact, which for me is normally the kiss of death, Ozu's gentle and light-hearted enough that the film's still fun and often funny. I laughed frequently at amusing vignettes like the policeman, the retired man's new job or the salesman-defying granny. It's not big gut-busting comedy, but it works. I'd recommend it.
As always, incidentally, one has to mention Ozu's directorial style. Not all the actors quite manage to overcome his idiosyncratic way with two-handed conversations, but there's still some excellent acting from both the adults and the children. The camera never moves, of course, but Ozu is feeling more frivolous this time and the film has a lightness that I'd almost call a bounce.
I mentioned two similarities, by the way. The second is children and their arbitrary rituals. The boys here are good, natural and funny, but I preferred their 1932 predecessors. Those were both more central to the story and more alien, having come to Earth from Planet Small Boy and giving the impression that silent cinema was their natural habitat. They did more strange things, although in fairness here the forehead-poking is weird and the hand-as-a-teacup is funny. Ironically though in this film too the boys become silent, this time by choice, and the result is the most entertaining thing in the movie.
Overall, it's good fun, which is something one you might not associate with a director whose non-silent work is best known for its refinement and minimalism. It's a bit unusual for Ozu. It's one of only six films he ever made in colour and the plot doesn't have an elderly parent trying to marry off a daughter and make her live her own life. More fundamentally though, it doesn't feel filtered through an old man's melancholy worldview, instead being a bit of a throwback to his younger work. It's a happy film. It's flippant, funny, short-ish and willing to do fart gags. Ozu even throws in random bits of business that can feel almost Python-esque, e.g. the couple who go past singing.
You could call it an episode from a 1950s American sitcom, except with a master's sensitivity and underneath that a sharply expressed theme. If you're interested in checking out Ozu's later films, this would be an audience-pleasing place to start.