Friday, May 28, 2010

Ozu's "Good Morning"

I am just getting around to some classic—or certainly entertaining—Japanese films. The Criterion Collection has apparently been remastering and releasing the Janus Film catalog and I just watched Yasujiro Ozu's "Good Morning" (お早よう).

Ozu made this color film in 1959, a time when Japanese society had mostly recovered from the war and families were interested in buying washing machines, refrigerators, and television sets. Nevertheless, all the housewives in the film still dress in kimono and people at home live and study on tatami. They seem to be living in new houses in a development on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Many elements are typically Japanese: Three generations live in the house. Grandmother prays at the household altar. School boys dress in uniform. Father is the supreme authority, although he does not have much to do with the children's daily life. A school classroom has 40 or more well-behaved students.

At the same time, the story is universal: Housewives gossip. Families cannot live on a husband's retirement pension. Children invent their own diversions. (Here they eat pumice so they can fart at will.) People jump to unwarranted conclusions.

The story is relatively simple. Two boys pester their parents to buy a television set. When they are told to stop talking, they do so, no longer even greeting a neighbor in the morning or telling their parents they need to bring lunch money to school. Complications ensue.

But while the story is simple on the surface, Ozo has some serious things to say about Japanese society as it plunges headlong into consumerism. I'd be interested in hearing what, say, a 35-year-old Japanese housewife would say about this 50-year-old movie. What is different and what is the same?

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