Ohayo (1959): Consumerism and communication problems in 50s’ Japan

 

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Not till almost the 30-min mark do you really get to understand which character does what in Yasujiro Ozu’s Ohayo (Good Morning), a lighthearted comedy about a Japanese suburbia in the 1950s. Normally, this is the sort of thing that frustrates but given that this is an Ozu film, I was patient and I was willing to go where his narration would take me. I have never been disappointed with any film of his so far and Ohayo doesn’t either. Ozu’s camera focuses on the happenings of the households of a bunch of families living in the same neighborhood. There is the family of Mrs. Hayashi (the treasures of a women’s club), her two sons Minoru and Isamu, then there is the family of Mrs. Haraguchi (the chairwoman of this club) and then there is the two boys’ English teacher who may or may not have a crush on their aunt.

At the beginning of the film, we see the women engaged in idle gossip and the topic revolves around the disappearance of the monthly dues that seemed to have not reached Mrs Haraguchi. “The case of the missing dues” plays as a concurrent strand to the other happenings: the two boys slipping out of their home once too often under the pretense of “group study” to watch the regular Sumo Wrestling matches on the television set of a couple leaving in the adjacent home. Their parents as well as the other neighbors don’t seem to approve of this couple as they are too “Western”. “They walk around in their pajamas all day”, says one woman. “She used to be a cabaret dancer”, says another. “The case of the missing dues” lead to some misunderstandings between the women in the neighborhood and Mrs. Haraguchi holds a grudge towards Mrs. Hayashi for making her look bad in front of the others. Meanwhile, the boys throw a tantrum and demand that their parents get them a television set as soon as possible or they’ll go on a hunger strike.

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Ohayo, as expected of any other Ozu film, is told in his trademark well-thought and carefully controlled minimalist style. It makes a commentary on consumerism and communication problems that happen inside a Japanese community. The characters say a lot of things but nothing really of substance. The women discuss about other women and about their children are such a nuisance. The chairwoman admonishes her mother for being forgetful all the time and the mother talks behind her back too. The English teacher seems to want to make a connection with the boys’ aunt but they are unable to communicate properly. (Haven’t we all gone through this?). Then the boys’ parents tell them to shut up and scold them for talking too much and the boys hit back by saying that adults talk too much and none of the chatter is anything significant.

The parents think that by bringing a television set into their home, their kids will be turned into brainwashed idiots and will deprive them of their ability to communicate properly. It was television in 1950s and in 2015, it’s smartphones and social media. Naturally, I was able to relate to the boys as I have demonstrated a similar behavior in my childhood. The interaction between the two brothers provides some of the humorous situations in the film. Ohayo is Ozu’s second color film after 1958’s Equinox Flower and he proves that he is as adept at handling color cinematography as he is at black-and-white. The film’s look resembles that of a children’s coloring book as the sets are painted in vibrant colors. His trademark static shots and “pillow shots” are as usual, a delight to watch.

 

 

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