Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jonathan Rosenbaum: Ohayo/Good Morning (1975 Review)

OHAYO/GOOD MORNING (1975 review)
by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Devoted to both the profound necessity and the sublime silliness of gratuitous social interchange, OHAYO is a rather subtler and grander work than might appear at first. Commonly referred to as a remake of Ozu’s silent masterpiece I WAS BORN, BUT . . . , it is as interesting for its differences as for its similarities. The focus of the earlier film is a family adapting to a new neighborhood by undergoing brutal social initiations: the father humiliates himself before his boss to get ahead while the sons are accepted by their peers only after humiliating a local bully. Shocked by the behavior of their father, who says that he has to demean himself in order to feed them, the sons retaliate by going on a hunger strike. In the lighter climate of OHAYO, twenty-seven years later, the setting is again middle-class Tokyo suburbia, but the central family is firmly settled, and serious problems — whether old age, unemployment, or ostracism — are principally reserved for their neighbors and friends. The sons’ complaint this time is that their parents won’t purchase a television set and that grown-ups talk too much; the form of their rebellion is refusing to speak. Significantly, it is the humiliations in the first film which provide much of the comedy, a subject assuming gravity only when it causes a rift between father and sons. But the more pervasive humor of OHAYO extends to the rebellion itself and all it engenders, as well as the various local intrigues surrounding it. Clearly one of Ozu’s most commercially minded movies — with its stately, innocuous muzak of xylophone and strings recalling Tati backgrounds, a similar tendency to keep repeating gags with only slight variations, and a performance of pure ham (quite rare in an Ozu film) by the delightful Masahiko Shimazu as the younger brother — its intricacy becomes apparent only when one realizes that each detail intimately links up with every other. Rhythmically, this is expressed by the alternation of simply stated (if interlocking) miniplots with complex camera setups, less bound by narrative advancement, depicting the physical layout of the neighborhood itself: the perpendicular passageways between houses and the overhead road on the embankment behind brilliantly suggesting certain structures as well as strictures in a society of interdependent yet insulated busybodies.

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