director Yasujirō Ozu
Yasujirō Ozu has been referred to as “the most Japanese of Japanese directors”. Where I picked that up was, I think, from a supplemental booklet at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival at some point. And while I think I understand what that statement is meant to imply, I am forced to wonder at whether that is a Western perspective rather than a Japanese one.
The more of Ozu’s films I see, I still have yet to have fully developed a perspective other than some of the generalities shared by others.
Still, Ozu in color is something different. Ohayo, or Good Morning, is the second of his color films, the second of six, which would turn out to be his last (he died in 1963 on his 60th birthday). It’s a comedy and an ensemble drama, a portrait of families living in tight proximity in the transitional times of the late 1950’s, where tradition and technologies are mingling and changing the lives of the average person.
Light in tone, and as understated as ever, it’s a film in which not a whole lot happens. The biggest dramas are over some misplaced club dues, a man whose potential hard times are improved by finding a new job, and boys who protest their family to buy a television set. The protest is one of a vow of silence, which the boys undertake to the amusement of their family, but to the consternation of their neighbors. It’s the simple inane niceties such as saying “good morning” that grease the wheel of social interaction and also threaten to break it down.
Masahiko Shimazu, who plays little Isamu, pretty much steals the show. He’s pretty hilarious.
Ozu, all understatement and subtlety, is deceptively deep and contemplative. Rich upon further consideration and study. The most Japanese of Japanese filmmakers? I don’t know if I can comment on that myself.