Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ohayô (Ozu, 1959)

My first film viewing of 2017 was a long overdue rewatch of Yasujirô Ozu's Ohayô aka Good Morning. The fuzzy, compressed transfer of the Criterion Collection DVD takes me back to a very specific time and place when I "discovered" Ozu, Japanese cinema, and the very idea of auteurism, which shapes my tastes and attitudes today. It was in my first moments of film school, in August of 2004, when I had just moved from small town rural Michigan to Chicago to attend Columbia College's Film & Video program. Before any classes I sat in a lecture hall for the orientation process. Sitting crossed-legged at the front of the room was a figure straight out of a Christopher Guest film. He was, of course, talking about movies, and he said with the assurance of a stock-broker, "Citizen Kane is out, Ozu is in." Kane I'd seen, but the second was an unknown commodity. To this day I cannot tell if the instructor was sharing his own cinephilic sensibilities or if he was tapping into the zeitgeist of the moment. It was around this time that the old fogeys were rearranging their short list of twenty films from before 1980 that constitute the Greatest Films of All Time, and for the first time in decades, Citizen Kane was being inched out by a quieter, calmer film called Tokyo Story. In February of the following year (2005) Halliwell's  released The Top 1000 Movies of All Time and Tokyo Story was number 1, while Kane was number 6.

Sitting in this lecture hall with about twenty other incoming film freshman I felt woefully behind. They enthusiastically bandied about names with the instructor: Solondz,Tarkovsky, Fellini. One kid had a form-fitting t-shirt with 8 1/2 printed in giant typeset. My friend's referred to him as "Fellini guy", not because of his shirt, but because of his penchant for announcing "My father force-fed me Fellini". It was a strange new world and here I was with my Kubrick box set (which we all had, by the way) and some assorted Spielbergs. When I returned home for the Winter Break I handed to my mother, upon request, a list of movies that I wanted for Christmas. She was very insistent on having a list so as to avoid "wasting money on movies that you don't like." Among the haul of art house classics was a copy of Good Morning. It's still considered a "lesser" Ozu, a type of list-making cinephile distinction that I find to be absolutely worthless. It is a precious film, if only to show Ozu's mastery of the passage of time and the changing of cultural climates. All of themes are present, but with a sense of levity that his heavier, seasonal films often lack. It looks a feels like a Disney short cartoon, the kind where Goofy or Donald Duck go camping. It is a tonic of a film, where everyone's choices have consequences and the resolution signals a small, imperceptible sea change in society. I'm still awed by the profundity that Ozu achieves through simple repetition.

There is one other connection that I wish to make. Over the Christmas holiday I was given a report by my aunt-in-law regarding some distant cousins that I don't know all that well. She had Christmas dinner with her brother and his family, which included some very spoiled grandchildren who spent the majority of their time on their phones. Of the three, the youngest boy (an eighth-grader I'm told) was given an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset as a present. He proceeded to pout and refused to speak because his sisters had a larger number of presents, regardless of the cost of his. I cannot help but view this scenario through the lens of Ozu: a seemingly major shift in technology rendered as an imperceptible change filtered through ideas of generational differences. Kids these days.

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