Good Morning Review
Those who fancy diving into a renowned filmmaker's work can find themselves with a difficult task. Downright intimidating, even. The introduction of a foreign language, and all of the expected cultural differences that flow alongside it, might be another barrier to such an education. Pure chronological, pending availability, might be one route but it's far from being always the best way to go. While apt starting points for the work of Bergman, Fellini, Renoir, Antonioni, Bresson and so on can be tough to pin down, consider the problem solved when it comes to Ozu, and simply invest in the BFI's release containing both the director's I Was Born, But... and Good Morning, known also as Ohayo. The former is a silent from 1932 and the latter is its companion piece updated in 1959 with dialogue and color. Good Morning is sometimes referred to as a remake but there are enough differences between the two pictures to suggest it as being more of a reworking than a strict revisiting of the material.
Good Morning has a very easygoing tone to it, denying any overt hints of pathos. This is somewhat rare for an Ozu film. He usually combined serious and comic, and often created an underlay of sadness. I Was Born, But... even does this, showing early on that Ozu was adept at capturing the ever-changing moods of daily life. And while the silent is not difficult to digest, Good Morning has an almost flimsy quality about it, apart from masking some of the salient things it has to say about family and communication, that would make it an ideal starting point for the uninitiated. In some ways it's atypical of prime Ozu but you do get a nice feel for his calming style and it's an excellent step in getting acclimated to the director's work. The more one sees of Ozu the more the appreciation likely gels. His filmography, or oeuvre for the monocled, is full of building blocks that strengthen and grow richer with each new viewing.
Part of why Good Morning is such a welcome starting point is that it dismisses any notion of Ozu as a stuffy or uptight filmmaker. It's popcorn Ozu. The comic moments are numerous, broad, and often still very funny. If you find yourself not laughing at the flatulence bits initially, just wait and witness how Ozu repeatedly uses the gag until it becomes both charming and hilarious. When a drunken neighbor enters the wrong home it's done in a certain context so that the broadness of the humor doesn't feel beneath the film, and, notably, it reminds the modern viewer that Ozu was much more of a populist than his current art house reputation sometimes implies. The scenes of little Isamu back at school after having taken a vow of silence to appease his older brother are pure, blissful comedy of the sort that transcends time and geography.
The relationship between the children and their parents has changed somewhat between I Was Born, But... and Good Morning. This is another good indication as to the many differences in the films. The two young brothers in the former are rather insolent and express disappointment in their father's acquiescence to his boss, whose son is one of their school mates. Good Morning instead presents the kids as more impish and likable but also less needing. They enjoy a comfortable life. The denial of a television set is a little tough to judge. On the one hand, they do come across as spoiled at times but, on the other, it's a TV. I can't think of anything more worth begging for by a child in the late '50s than a television. The boys' silent treatment, a continuation of the hunger strike in I Was Born, But..., seems like just the sort of thing kids would do in that situation. Indeed, much of Good Morning plays out this way, where the essentially light nature of the film registers because of how real to life it seems. Day-to-day shenanigans can be petty and thin like the types of things shown by Ozu.
Adults are dealt with a tad differently. Where the kids come across as, well, kids, the dynamic of the neighbors - which includes gossip and rumors and innuendo and so much that will seem familiar to most everyone - cuts closer to the bone. Ozu not only seems to be satirizing such behavior, he's also conveying one of his major points in the film. The idea of how communication among adults works becomes an interesting strand that touches most every part of Good Morning. The older brother Minoru complains that adults use a form of meaningless small talk when conversing. The movie goes on to basically defend the use of these common phrases and discussions, confirmed near the end when it provides an excuse for the boys' teacher and their aunt to finally talk to each other. The little empty conversations, Ozu seems to say, provide a refreshing entry point to hopefully avoid the gossip and misunderstandings that can come with assumptions like we see with the female union money tiff. It's a very human inclination to establish contact like this, and here we have a very human-oriented director extolling the virtues of simple phrases and greetings.
Good Morning is available as part of the BFI's ongoing The Ozu Collection in a Dual Format edition release that contains both a single-layered Blu-ray and a dual-layered DVD inside the transparent case. The former disc has only Good Morning on it while the standard definition offering includes its companion film I Was Born, But... in addition to the main feature. The discs are region-locked and only those with the ability to play Region B titles will be able to enjoy Good Morning in high definition.
Several years ago the Criterion Collection released Good Morning on DVD but the transfer included on that release has faced a good deal of criticism and derision for how much it favors the color red instead of the more greenish tint usually seen on Japanese films from this period. The BFI smartly avoided any similar mistakes and instead seem to have adhered closer to the source elements provided by Shochiku. Skin tones and the overall green-influenced palette match essentially every other color Ozu film available on DVD. The original film stock wasn't Technicolor but Agfacolor, Ozu's preference, and so it's completely logical for there to be this consistency in the color balance from film to film. In addition to the restraint shown in not fiddling with the colors of the 1.33:1 image, the BFI also has preserved a healthy layer of grain that looks wonderful and natural in motion. Detail, too, is easily up to par in the presentation and an obvious point of improvement for the Blu-ray in comparison with the DVD.
I Was Born, But... looks, understandably, much less impressive. It's full of scratches, some quite heavy and many prominent. Contrast and detail don't concern me but the framing definitely does. There are several occasions where the top portion of the image looks far too tight, to the point of actors' heads being partially or just about completely out of frame. The BFI booklet notes that the film was transferred from the best available elements, provided by Shochiku. Presumably, these same elements were the basis for Criterion's edition of I Was Born, But..., which can be found in the Eclipse Silent Ozu set. The big difference is that the R1 has significantly more information at the top of the frame. This is severe enough for fans of the silent film to seek out and prefer Criterion's Eclipse version.
Audio for Good Morning is available via Japanese mono. The Blu-ray presentation uses a PCM (48k/16-bit) track while the DVD has a Dolby Digital (320kbps) version. The lossless audio is reasonably clean and sounds fine to the ear, with little else to either complain about or praise. The optional English subtitles are white in color. I Was Born, But... can be played either silently or with a newly composed score by Ed Hughes and featuring the New Music Players. The score comes through in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is consistent and at a nice level of volume. It generally fits the film well enough. The only point of contention might be the use of some hard percussion sounds that, to me, sound not just out of place but also overly dramatic for what's being shown on the screen.
In terms of supplements, the BFI seems to be following a strict pattern with its Ozu releases in which the main feature is joined by a second film and an included booklet picks up the remaining slack. Here the booklet runs 24 pages. The initial essay is by Bryony Dixon and attempts to discuss both of the films in this release across five pages of text. It's followed by a December 1975 piece on Good Morning by Jonathan Rosenbaum, which lasts four pages. Another quartet of pages is devoted to Ed Hughes explaining his motivations in the creation of the I Was Born, But... score that accompanies that film on this release. Stills, credits and notes on the transfer help to fill out the remainder of the booklet.