Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Watch-A-Thon flick 20.5: Ozu's GOOD MORNING

Desperate Housewives and Little Rascals in Japan =)
Japanese trailer | Brattle listing | subtitled clip

Caught this 1959 film by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu as part of the Brattle's "Elements Of Cinema" program on Saturday morning. It was a wonderful two-hour time out from my Druncle Sam madness. =)

The movie is a total joy to watch. We get to follow the apparently quiet lives of a handful of families in a small suburban neighborhood. The fun is in the simple details. The boys win each other's admiration by proving their prowess at farting on command. The mothers spend their free time gossiping molehills into mountains. The fathers work, or don't work, and stumble home (sometimes someone else's) after a few drinks. Into this clockwork world, a couple of tiny wrenches are thrown, and we are treated to the wonderful malfunctioning results.

One of the women has misplaced or misspent the community's housing dues, collected from all the families, prompting the biddiest (is that a word?) of them to wonder aloud about the timing of a neighbor's purchase of a new washing machine. Not an accusation, of course, just an observation... made repeatedly... to every other neighbor who will listen.

At the same time, a pushy traveling salesman hits the neighborhood house by house, shamelessly browbeating the stay-at-home mothers and wives into buying his mundane wares. Only a wry grandmother has the wisdom to send him on his way. The wisdom and the knife, that is.

Also, two young brothers (the younger is just irresistibly and seriously cute—see the trailer!), decide to go on a silent treatment strike. When they plead for their parents to get them a television set (like their hip young neighbors have), and only get argument and rejection in response, they end up charging their parents, and adults in general, with saying things that mean nothing. They waste energy on so many empty words that fill up the air and the time, like "How are you?" "Nice weather," and "Good morning!" In protest of adults' nonsense, they vow to keep silent, until their televisional demand is met. This little thing, of course, leads to all kinds of sweet fun. At school, they refuse to read their lessons, which gets them into trouble. In the neighborhood, they refuse to return greetings from the neighboring housewives, who of course think that their mother has poisoned the children's minds against them. Well, obviously! And their silence becomes a topic of perhaps the first real conversation that their tutor and their aunt have ever had.

The two boys have an English tutor that they see regularly. He and the boys' aunt appear to be crushing pretty hard on one another, but neither says or does anything about it. When she comes by to pick up the boys one evening, after they've begun their strike, they talk about the boys' stand against useless words and describe how the boys don't know yet why "we adults" need those words. As a social lubrication, to allow people to connect, to acknowledge what they think and feel without actually saying the words for them. I'm not quite putting it as well as they did in their dialogue, but it made perfect sense, in a what-you-imagine-about-Japanese-society-from-its-portrayal-in-movies way, as well as an upright and proper British way, too. Although, when you think about it a little bit more, you kind of realize it's a pretty universal phenomenon.

At the end of the film, the tutor and the aunt encounter each other at a train station. They greet one another and then stand side by side. Their conversation turns from greetings to the weather to the shapes of clouds, completely inane, and if they didn't so obviously have feelings for one another, pointless and boring. But because of their unspoken connection, their exchanges are so very expressive.

Visually, the film is like a crisp autumn day. Colors are bright in that mid-20th century like-the-world-just-invented-color film way. Wardrobes are a mixture of 60s modern and traditional. The "desperate housewives" are scandalized by the young "beatnik" couple, new to the neighborhood, who spend most of their time at home in their pajamas and enjoy dancing down the street while scattin' up their own jazz beat.

The life of the neighborhood is captured in some beautiful exterior shots down alleys and streets, creating these almost Scooby-Doo scenes of the denizens passing from left to right and back along different paths in planes of varying distance from the camera. Many of these shots appear multiple times, at first establishing the regular beat of daily life in the community, and then pointing up the ripples of change that travel through it later.

The framing and movement of characters thru these shots are so striking. I really had a sense of the entire neighborhood being a mechanical or wind-up animatronic model.

The music is a wonderful voice and character of its own. Almost cartoony in its influence on the experience.

Apparently, this is one of Ozu's, if not his only, foray into comedy. That makes me a bit sad, as it is so frickin enjoyable! Still, I look forward to hunting down more of his films and seeing what kind of magic he coaxes out of drama and melodrama.

Keep on keepin on~

No comments: