Good Morning Review
I've read a few recent Western reviews of this DVD that fail to comprehend the film's gentle charm or its historical/aesthetic significance. Understanding this film from an historical and aesthetic perspective is not essential, but it helps the first time viewer appreciate the special qualities that an Ozu film has to offer - and for me, those qualities are some of the most rewarding in all of cinema. This DVD's enclosed booklet thankfully features an excellent essay by Rick Prelinger which goes some way to explaining Ozu's appeal. It's a shame that this is not on the outside of the box so prospective buyers could read it!
The master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) is most famous for TOKYO STORY (1953), a film regularly cited in director and critics' favourite film lists alongside LA REGLE DU JEU, THE SEVEN SAMURAI, and 8 1/2. Ozu made GOOD MORNING in 1959 towards the end of a distinguished career that started in the silent era and was tragically cut short on his 60th birthday in 1963 from throat cancer. Ozu's minimalist personal vision of cinema developed over his career into a pared down approach that involved no moving cameras, and close-to-the-floor camera positions, about which Ozu said "I have formulated my own directing style in my head, proceeding without any unnecessary imitation of others."
GOOD MORNING (also widely known in Europe as "Ohayo") takes place in a close knit working class Japanese community during the late 1950s. Neighbours visit each other to gossip and "Chinese whispered" gossip becomes false information. This is how the film moves forward and becomes a fascinating study of a small community. Amidst this setting is the focus of the story: a family with two young brothers. The brothers decide to wage a war of silence against all those around them in retaliation for their parents' refusal to buy a TV set. They see their parents' lives revolving around small talk, such as "hello, how do you do? isn't the weather nice?" and their only form of retaliation is to extract themselves from it by being silent. Rick Prelinger's excellent accompanying essay points out that "Ozu criticises adults' propensity for meaningless, space-filling conversations... ...it's the emptiness of adult chatter that turns the young TV wannabes into social critics. They don't want to grow up into a world of meaningless rituals." In turn, I feel, Ozu is not suggesting that the TV is the answer, he is suggesting that we talk more honestly about how we really feel.
GOOD MORNING was Ozu's third colour film. He was keen to experiment with colour yet he eschewed any frame wider than standard Academy ratio, saying that the wide frame looked "like a piece of toilet paper". So all Ozu films are in 4:3. Ozu particularly liked to make the colours very bold and he loved the reds he got from the Agfa film he regularly used. He often graphically matches colours and objects between cuts, leading us through space this way, so for example a red shirt hanging on a washing line will be in the same part of the frame as a red teapot cosy in the next shot. This subtle attention to detail, the unflinching camera (no movement, no pans), and the fine performances combine to create a gloriously lyrical representation of suburban life in late 1950s Japan as it became rife with Western influences such as jazz (the young couple sing scat and play pretend double bass as they walk through the streets); US films (the same couple have a poster for "The Defiant Ones" on their wall); and TV (the root of the problem).
The print is the best I've ever seen of this film. That's not to say it's excellent, but it's better than the version Channel 4 showed in the 1980s, and much better than the USA NTSC VHS release. It's a new digital transfer from a low contrast composite print, but there's a regular light fluctuation in the colour balance throughout the film. It's not something that would bother too many people but I wondered how it came to be like that (bad storage on a wound reel?). 99% of the time the print is lovely, detailed (if rather soft focus), very colourful (almost too colourful, just as Ozu liked it), but in the 16th and 33rd minutes there are a few problems that could have been put right. Criterion's THE SEVENTH SEAL DVD established just what could be done in the field of digital restoration without compromising the film's integrity. So the 12 frame tear in the print during the 16th minute of GOOD MORNING was a shock to see in an otherwise beautiful print. It's over in a second, and is actually quite fascinating to watch (well, for me anyhow), but I thought Criterion would have addressed this and the missing frames in the 33rd minute. Nevertheless, it's the best released print of this film ever.
The sound is about as good as it's possible to get a 40 year old mono soundtrack. Nothing to worry about here.
If you've got this far into the review and it sounds interesting to you, it probably will be. Ozu's films are not mass appeal, they're often considered boring when I find them meditative; or they're called shallow when that's about the last thing I find them to be. There's no hiding that I love this film.
Being in Criterion's lowest price band (but still relatively dear at $30 RRP) reflects the fact that there are no extras at all on this disc. Optional subtitles are present, but these should be standard now (unless you're the BFI). All I can hope is this DVD sells well enough to inspire Criterion to produce a 2-disc set of Ozu's TOKYO STORY with Wim Wenders' TOKYO-GA Ozu documentary...