film

Old School Review: “Good Morning” (1959)

Written by Kôgo Noda and Yasujirô Ozu and directed by Ozu, “Good Morning” is a comedic drama following two young boys who wage a war of silence against their parents to persuade them to buy a Television set so they can watch Sumo wrestling. This is the most charming of Ozu’s films that I have seen thus far (three and counting), and still yet the film manages to insert powerful, but subtle, musings on the intricacies of communication and intent. The film is focused on a small Tokyo suburb of families living in close proximity with each other and it cleverly bounces between the language barriers and misunderstandings of a few groups of the residents. First, and most focused on, are the two brothers Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu) and Minoru (Sitara Koji). On their morning walks to school they and a few other boys from the neighborhood have perfected a game in which they press a finger against each other’s forehead to instigate a fart, which gives way to laughter and affirmation in the group. Funnily enough, one poor kid keeps failing this intestinal test and, well, he begins and ends the film with a walk of shame back to his parents to get a change of pants.

The mothers and wives of the suburb turn a simple misunderstanding into a series of gossip and rumors because their collective dues haven’t been paid accordingly. They all attest to have paid on time, surely, there was a simple issue along the way, but on the other hand the chairwoman, Mrs Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura) who collects the dues, has just bought a new washing machine. As the film progresses, Mrs Hayashi (Kuniko Miyake) the mother of Isamu and Minoru, wanted to solve the issue quickly- she seems to be easily put on edge by financial stress– but Mrs Haraguchi hears about the allegation of a new washing machine bought illegally with the dues and confronts Mrs Hayashi (who didn’t even start the rumor) to assure her that this did not happen. Ironically, later when Isamu and Minoru go on a strike of silence to get their parents to buy a TV, they apply this silence to all adults and Mrs Haraguchi assumes this slight was instigated by Mrs Hayashi for the misunderstanding, and quickly informs the other women that Mrs Hayashi holds grudges. This whole incident, by the way, is finally uncovered when Mrs Haraguchi discovers that the dues were given to her mother (Eiko Miyoshi), a comedic old woman who had simply forgotten about receiving them. The grandmother is often found praying, and blatantly complaining about her ingrate of a daughter- yet another Ozu familiarity in the comedy and tragedy of generational family affairs.

The fathers and husbands of the suburb also have their own issues with communication as well. The father of Isamu and Minoru (Chishū Ryū) must mediate and absolve his sons squabbling, after they loudly resist he bellows that “You talk too much for boys your age”. Minoru (the eldest) responds that adults are even worse because adults always engage in pointless niceties like “good morning”, “good evening” and refuse to say exactly what they mean. Which is how Isamu and Minoru come to their silent strike. Their father also has a scene with an older acquaintance in a bar who had found no solace in retirement, only the slow walk toward death. They try to communicate between one’s drunken rambling and the other’s botched attempt to cheer him up- but in doing so realizes his own encroaching retirement. It is this acquaintance, happier with a new job near the end of the film selling electronics, that Isamu and Minoru’s parents buy a TV from to celebrate his new job- to the joy of the silent little warriors.

Final Score: 2 brothers and a few rumors

film

Old School Review: “I live in Fear” (1955)

Caution: There will be spoilers..

Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, “I Live in Fear” is the legendary filmmaker’s most direct attempt at fictionalizing the very real social anxieties sweeping Japan post World War Two. The film opens on an unfolding case being discussed in family court. Kiichi Nakajima (Toshiro Mifune) is a successful, elder, Japanese industrialist that has been taken to court by his family for the unreasonable use of his funds to secure land in Brazil, the only place on earth Mr. Nakajima believes to be safe from Nuclear Annihilation. He wishes to purchase a farm in the South American country and to bring his family with him- to which the whole family objects. Granted, most of the family doesn’t want to uproot their entire lives just to assuage the fears of Kiichi, but as the film progresses we get the impression that the family would have gone on without acknowledging the man’s paranoia and mental health IF he hadn’t begun to use his wealth, their inheritance, to fund several projects that he thought would protect his loved ones from an irradiated doom.

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After much deliberation the family court approves the family’s petition, that Mr. Nakajima’s actions and intentions deem him mentally unfit. Naturally he appeals the notion and as the court machinations move forward Mr. Nakajima only becomes more frenzied with each passing hour. As he unravels, he fails to understand why everyone around him can be so calm when the very fact that the H bomb exists at all should concern every living soul with grave danger. One of the more powerful scenes in the film, in my opinion, happens during a visit to one of his mistresses (the film doesn’t shy away from the fact that our lead isn’t perfect) as he mistakes lightning and thunder to be another bomb dropping- he dives for his youngest son and startles him awake, at which point the mistress snatches her child up and looks at Kiichi with fearful eyes. Eventually he is so distraught by a son-in-law’s suggestion that even Brazil wouldn’t be safe from the fallout of nuclear war, that Kiichi takes drastic measures and sets the family foundry ablaze. The foundry was the source of the family’s wealth- which Kiichi eventually only saw as a deterrent to moving to safety.

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Throughout the film Kurosawa wisely placed Takashi Shimura as the moral center, and therefore soul of the film, in Dr. Harada. In the role as a dentist that’s been accepted by the local community to be on the board of the family court, Dr. Harada is often the one individual to question the group’s assumptions and point out when Mr. Nakajima makes logical points of contention. After Shimura’s spellbinding performance in Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” in 1952, it was a cinematic pleasure seeing two of Kurosawa’s most lauded performers onscreen together. Granted, I’m watching Kurosawa’s films out of order, so this may not be as momentous as it felt to me at the time. The two actors play off of each other brilliantly, with Shimura’s reserved and quiet performance set against the rigidity and barely contained anger of Mifune’s Kiichi- it’s an excellent pairing of personalities.

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Kurosawa presents an argument in the film, which party is the sane one? Mr. Nakajima, who’s trying to save lives and avoid nuclear disintegration? Or the World around him that neglects his worries as trivial and misguided. Sirens wail in the background throughout the film and most of the characters have a sort of laissez-faire attitude about the whole idea of nuclear annihilation. Several even acknowledge that while Mr. Nakajima had gone too far- they couldn’t accurately articulate why he should be deemed mentally incompetent. The film’s final scene encapsulates this dichotomy visually with Mr. Nakajima institutionalized in a psychiatric ward. Dr. Harada leaves the institution, having just witnessed a man broken by paranoia, just as Nakajima’s daughter enters and both are anchored in a mourning and uneasiness as they each enter a world that harbors curious intent.

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In reading what others have said about this film I came across the perfect summary of where the film’s head-space lives. In an article from Slate in 2008, by Fred Kaplan, he extrapolates that if someone were to make a similar film on the American psyche post 9/11 “[they] might cover and somehow dramatize: the line between obsession and obliviousness, between whimpering terror and blithe denial; the undeterminable toll on our ‘unconscious minds’ from embracing either course; and the question of whether it’s possible to lead a fully conscious, sane life on some road in between“. All of which is crafted here exquisitely by Akira Kurosawa and his crew. This tragedy is worth a watch, if only to recognize how the outcomes of war can affect a society and it’s people.

 

Final Score: Two minutes, ’til midnight