Good Morning

1959, Movie, NR, 94 mins

Review

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One of Yasujiro Ozu's lightest but not slightest movies, GOOD MORNING (aka OHAYO) tells the story of how two schoolboys disrupt their entire immediate neighborhood by going on a silence strike. The film is a variation of Ozu's silent classic I WAS BORN, BUT... (1932).

Mrs. Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura), a member of a local women's club, is suspected of diverting members' dues to buy herself a washing machine. Her reputation is saved when she discovers that her mother (Eiko Miyoshi) has neglected to tell her that Mrs. Hayashi (Kuniko Miyake) delivered the funds to their house some time ago. But the misunderstanding is exacerbated when the two Hayashi boys--Minoru (Koji Shigaraki) and his little brother, Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu)--refuse to talk to Mrs. Haraguchi, who concludes that their mother bears her a grudge. What Mrs. Haraguchi doesn't know is that the lads have taken a vow of silence--the result of a scolding they received from their father (Chishu Ryu). Fed up with his sons' endless entreatments to buy them a television set, he told them to shut up--and they defiantly obeyed.

Setsuko (Yoshiko Kuga), Minoru and Isamu's aunt, tells Fukui (Keiji Sata), their tutor in English, of the boys' impatience with the small talk of grownups: "Good morning," "Good evening," "A fine day," etc. Fukui observes that life would be boring without such meaningless pleasantries. Later, his sister admonishes him for engaging Setsuko in small talk instead of initiating a romantic relationship with her.

One afternoon, Minoru and Isamu disappear. When they finally return to their worried family, the boys are delighted to find that their father has bought a TV from Okubo (Toyo Takahashi), a neighbor who's just started a job as an appliance salesman. The silence strike ends. The next morning, Setsuko and Fukui encounter each other while waiting for a train. "Good morning," they say. "Isn't it a fine day?"

Among the oeuvres of major moviemakers, Ozu's films are the most deceptively bland and uneventful, and GOOD MORNING is one of the sneakiest of them all. On the surface little more than a trivial domestic comedy, it shares its milieu, themes, and a few artifacts (hula hoops, televised wrestling) with 1950s suburban sitcoms. Prominent among its personae is a gaggle of gossiping, small-minded housewives. The film's most extended running gag revolves around flatulence: a group of schoolboys tries to match each other's abilities to fart on cue; the punchline is supplied by the overachiever who always soils his pants. Supplementary humor is furnished by alcoholic episodes in the sad life of a retiree. The picture's "romantic couple" are so sweet and shy that they never even begin to get it on.

As unpromising as all this may sound, GOOD MORNING is another Ozu gem, a covertly sophisticated ensemble piece scripted with the intricacy and precision of a well-constructed Restoration comedy of manners. Any loose ends left dangling at its conclusion were fully intended. Despite its rigor, the movie is neither sterile nor artificial. Although brisker and more playful than Ozu's best-known works, the film's comedy is enriched by several flashes of pathos: Okubo's drunken musings on his unhappy retirement; Mr. Hayashi's moment of somber contemplation of his own inevitable retirement; Mrs. Haraguchi's almost casual comment to her mother that she wishes the old woman would take herself to Mt. Narayama and die; Mrs. Hayashi's perpetual air of unassuming decency and mild anxiety.

Welcome and reassuring are several familiar faces from the Ozu stock company, including the sensitive, dewy-eyed Kuniko Miyake as Mrs. Hayashi; Chishu Ryu, who brings to Mr. Hayashi a mixture of placidity, gentleness, and dignity that no western actor, not even Gregory Peck, has ever matched; and Haruko Sugimura (as Mrs. Haraguchi), an expert in the art of revealing the cat just behind the surface courtesy of her characters. As the smallest Hayashi, Masahiko Shimazu almost steals the show. A pint-sized Lou Costello, Shimazu is irresistibly cute whether he's parroting the English endearment "I love you" or feinting karate chops toward anyone handy. His habit of immediately echoing everything his big brother does provides Ozu with a golden opportunity to indulge one of his favorite tropes, the rhyming of human bodies.

In an era that introduced moviegoers to a long line of rude, overwrought rebels, with and without causes, a movie that championed the vacuous polite chitchat of compliant, rather repressed people was a tonic. In 1957, two years before GOOD MORNING emerged, Hollywood released its antithesis, a turgid and tear-stained soap opera set in Japan called SAYONARA. Discriminating movie buffs are advised to say "sayonara" to SAYONARA and "ohayo" to OHAYO.

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