Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Good Morning: The Criterion Collection (1959)
Studio Line: Criterion

Ozu's hilarious technicolor re-working of his silent I was born, but…, Good Morning (Ohayo) is the story of two young boys in suburban Tokyo who take a vow of silence after their parents refuse to buy them a television set. Shot from the perspective of the petulant brothers, Good Morning is an enchantingly satirical portrait of family life that gives rise to gags about romance, gossip, and the consumerism of modern Japan.

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Yoshiko Kuga, Kuniko Miyake, Chishu Ryu, Koju Shidara, Masaniko Shimazu, Haruko Sugimara
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio Japanese Digital Mono; subtitles English; single sided - single layered; 24 chapters; rated NR; 93 min.; $29.95; street date 8/15/00.
Supplements: Essay Booklet
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C-/C/D-

One of the best aspects of reviewing DVDs stems from some of the movies I've seen I otherwise would have missed. For a variety of reasons, I've picked up a slew of terrific films that would never have crossed my path if I'd remained a "DVD civilian", and I'm very pleased to be able to continue this education.

One of the worst aspects of reviewing DVDs stems from some of the movies I' ve seen I otherwise would have missed. Lord, have I witnessed some clunkers! The only thing worse than watching a terrible film is watching a terrible film and then having to write an article about it - the agony never ends!

Yasujiro Ozu's 1959 movie Good Morning isn't an awful picture, but it falls much more closely to the latter category than to the former. The movie is essentially a plotless observation of life in late Fifties suburban Japan. The title alludes to the preponderance of mindless chit-chat spoken by the adult characters, whose lives seem to revolve around gossip (the women) or booze (the men).

The kids - who are really the focus of the picture - are mainly concerned with TV and farting. Oh, is there a lot of flatulence in this movie; it doesn't quite rival something like Dumb and Dumber, but an awful lot of gags feature forms of bodily gas.

The closest we come to a unifying story thread stems from the desire of two of the children to have a TV. Their parents don't want to get one, since they think it'll make the kids morons, so the two brothers attempt to influence them through various kiddie tactics: tantrums, begging, and eventually a vow of silence. In the closest thing to a plot twist we find in Good Morning, the latter backfires because a neighbor interprets the boys' refusal to greet her as a sign that their mother is angry at her. This sparks more gossip and quiet animosity.

I suppose Good Morning attempts to say something about the superficial qualities of modern life - as of the late Fifties, at least - and it does make its points to a degree. However, the ideas that folks are concerned with appearances and "keeping up with the Joneses" aren't exactly fresh, and the movie does little to expound upon them in creative or compelling ways.

As such, Good Morning comes across as little more than a pretty ordinary sit-com of the era, albeit one with a different setting and with a lot more flatulence. By strange coincidence, I happened to see an episode of The Andy Griffith Show a couple of months back that featured a similar theme; half-heard remarks and misinterpretations of events led some Mayberry residents to think Aunt Bee had something going with the milkman. Of course, this wasn't true, but the gossip spread its insidious web across Mayberry in the blink of an eye.

That's why I think of Good Morning as nothing more than a glorified sit-com. There's nothing in the tale that makes it more effective than that episode of Andy Griffith, and it has little else to offer. I found Good Morning to be cute and mildly entertaining, but it doesn't provide anything I couldn't get from an average episode of Leave It to Beaver.

The DVD:

Good Morning appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the film presents a bland but acceptably watchable picture.

Sharpness is a recurring concern. The movie exists in a limbo world where it never looks truly crisp and detailed but it also never seems genuinely fuzzy and hazy. The image remains mildly soft throughout the film, always living on the edge between proper focus and legitimate softness. Moiré effects are a frequent issue, mostly due to patterns in clothes and buildings. Print flaws were less common but they appeared many times during the movie. Light grain could be seen, and periodic examples of speckles, grit, scratches, hairs, and at least one major tear occurred.

Colors remain rather dull and drab throughout the movie. They seem faded and lifeless most of the time, though they're not terrible off-base; a slight amount of "sprucing up" would have made them much more attractive. Black levels are adequately deep and dark, though contrast seems a little weak, and shadow detail was fairly appropriate. The image of Good Morning suffers mainly from its hazy and bland qualities, but the film seems pretty watchable.

Also unremarkable is the monaural soundtrack of Good Morning. Other than during a few lines spoken in English, I can't judge the intelligibility of the dialogue. Nonetheless, the lines seemed clear though dull and flat. Effects were acceptably accurate and realistic, and the music sounded clean and smooth, though both of these aspects were also rather subdued; GM is a pretty quiet film, so speech is the most important quality. A light but constant layer of background noise appears during the movie. The audio seems perfectly average for this era.

GM features almost no supplemental materials. We get a decent essay from filmmaker Rick Prelinger in the DVD's booklet but nothing else. Considering the lack of familiarity most Americans will have with Ozu's work, additional information about his career would have been beneficial.

Good Morning presents the Japanese film as American sit-com. The movie presents a fairly bland tale of suburban life in late Fifties Japan that provides lots of flatulence and little incisive social commentary. Ultimately, I thought it seemed cute and occasionally entertaining but not anything special. The DVD offers pretty average picture and sound but no significant supplements. If you're curious to see a Japanese interpretation of a sit-com, give Good Morning a whirl, but I can't recommend it to anyone for other reasons.

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