Small-town Rumor-mills

24 Sep 2013: Good Morning (DVD, 1959, Yasujiro Ozu)

Having seen Antonioni’s L’Avventura earlier today, it occurred to me while mulling over potential ways into this capsule entry that the somewhat contemporaneous Ozu presents an inverse depiction of existentialism in an industrializing landscape. While Italians of this period (Fellini, Pasolini, Antonioni) showcase the absurd, bleak and dreary, Ozu maintains a contrary sunniness and earnestness that makes most “modern” malaises into mere bicker-fodder for village yentas and moody drunkards. Here young kids rebel and sass their parents over not having a television, a situation that a European and a present-day international handheld dramatist (e.g. Iñárritu) would make into a violent waste of nasty (or voided) emotions but that Ozu treats as innocent and largely harmless, using cheery music and restrained performances to force a kinder view toward the kids than usually expected and by extension the whole situation. Characters on the whole are treated fairly, never villainized – their rumors about each other are frequently shown ill-founded, their complaints about others shortsighted and incomplete, and despite everyone’s flaws they all ultimately seem to be able to coexist happily. Unlike I Was Born, But…, which this film “reworks” per the Criterion case, there seems to be at least equal if not greater focus on the adults – sandwiched together in a block much tighter than the rural farmlands of the prior film – than the children, which clarifies their own childishness, ranging from an inability to interpret simple charades to sheepish drunken home misidentifications and juvenile disrespect for elders and each other. In fact, the “bratty” kids are some of the more principled and thoughtful characters in the film – gainsaying the value of small talk, standing up and arguing for their opinions – yet not above fart jokes at the same time. Skillful compositions, as in Autumn Afternoon (not to mention Red Desert), accentuate the stance of people as often equal to the factory machinery in the landscape, and place them between the close roofs of the small-town setting even when at a distance, in addition to framing people at center in medium to wide shot to capture all of who they are and how they carry themselves in front of the others.

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