Monday, May 07, 2007

Good Morning

1959, Japan, directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Yasujiro Ozu's Good Morning is a gentle, though insistent, satire of post-war Japanese mores, set in a claustrophobic suburban neighborhood where the homes are built so close together that characters frequently look from their homes directly into the living spaces of their neighbours (Ozu makes frequent use of this proximity to craft clever multi-frame compositions). Given such conditions, it's no surprise that the neighbourhood is riven with gossip, and Ozu explores the impact of such idle chatter in each of the households visited; the film unfolds as a series of vignettes, with the key plot point, a silent strike by two young boys who want a television, not emerging until the halfway mark.

Ozu uses the rigidly engineered structure of the houses to create complex geometric patterns that sometimes approach abstract art: he combines these patterns with striking use of colour, with certain shots evoking the paintings of Piet Mondrian, as the director highlights small, vivid patches of colour (a blue bowl, a red ski). The film is no dry artistic effort, however: at the heart of everything is an exploration of human interactions, and especially family dynamics, at a time of great social change. While the older characters fret about the impact of television on Japanese society, Ozu is clear-eyed about the lack of emotional engagement that frequently characterises family life, irrespective of whether the family is centered on a television or seated around a table, each person with his or her nose in the newspaper.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States