A lighthearted take on director Yasujiro Ozu’s perennial theme of the challenges of intergenerational relationships, Good Morning (Ohayo) tells the story of two young boys who stop speaking as an act of resistance after their parents refuse to buy a television set. Ozu weaves a wealth of subtle gags through a family portrait as rich as those of his dramatic films, mocking the foibles of the adult world through the eyes of his childish protagonists. Shot in stunning Technicolor and set in a suburb of Tokyo where housewives gossip about the neighbors’ new washing machine and unemployed men look for work as door-to-door salesmen, this charming comedy reworks Ozu’s own silent classic I Was Born, But . . . to gently satirize consumerism in postwar Japan.
Yasujiro Ozu’s Good Morning gets a much-needed Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration was taken from the original 35mm negative. The transfer and restoration were performed by Shochiku.
Criterion’s old DVD is pretty abysmal: an interlaced, fuzzy mess, with questionable colours it was probably one of their worst looking DVDs. After sticking it out with that disc for so long popping this new Blu-ray in offered a whole new experience with the film, almost like seeing it for the first time. The detail improvement is simply unbelievable. Where the previous DVD had no fine details of any sort, the details on here just pop off the screen left and right. There are textures in the outfits I never noticed before. There are also some crisply rendered patterns I didn’t notice before. Fine cross-hatching patterns are crystal clear, and best of all I didn’t notice any shimmer or digital anomaly of any sort when these tight patterns and details were rendered. Barely any of this stuff shows up on the DVD, and if it did it was marred by jagged edges thanks to the interlaced presentation, but here all of these details, including all of those details in the settings, are crystal clear and obvious. Film grain is rendered wonderfully and looks natural throughout.
There is no damage of note, the image about as clean as can be. Colours do also look better here in comparison to the DVD. I’m still not sure about this area, though. The DVD’s slightly over-saturated look and heavier reds in places always seemed wrong, though I can’t say if this one is correct. The colours here lean heavier on the yellow side of things but ultimately the colours do look “better” in comparison to the DVD and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if this was at the very least closer to how the film should look. On a somewhat related note black levels are also quite good, looking fairly inky without crushing being an issue.
I recall not being terribly fond of the film the first time I saw it, despite liking a number of Ozu’s other films, though I began to at least appreciate it more over the years. Seeing it again on this Blu-ray was quite the revelation and as I mentioned it was like a whole new experience. Though maybe it was just bound to happen after watching the film a number of times through the years it feels like it finally clicked with me and I wouldn’t doubt just getting a crystal clear, sharp presentation like this one may have helped make that finally happen. It really looks terrific.
The lossless Japanese LPCM 1.0 mono track also offers an improvement over the previous DVD. Though still not the most robust presentation, fidelity is a bit better, as is clarity. Music and dialogue are clearer and the background noise and distortion noticeable on the DVD have been cleaned up considerably. It really is a sharp improvement.
The previous DVD was featureless, save for a short essay found in the insert. Since it was Criterion’s first Ozu title (on DVD) I would have expected something, but alas it was not to be. That wrong has also been corrected with this edition.
Starting things off is a brand new 17-minute visual essay by David Cairns about Ozu’s use of humour. Cairns looks at the fart jokes in the film and explains how most familiar with Ozu’s dramatic work may be taken aback by this element to the film but they aren’t so far removed from some of his other films. He then goes on to point out how Ozu worked on comic scenarios and films in his early days before going into some of his dramas, bringing up scenes from these films to showcase the humour. From here he then looks at the subtle moments Japanese audiences may relate to more and find funny, Ozu’s use of children in a number of films, and even how Ozu can find humour in his compositions. For newcomers to Ozu or someone who may not know what to make of Good Morning on a first viewing it’s certainly a good resource to use.
David Bordwell next takes a look at how Ozu’s films have changed narratively and stylistically through the years, like how his early films focus on a smaller set of characters while his later films usually focus on a broader set, like an extended family. At one point he uses Ozu’s early silent I Was Born, But… and even Good Morning to illustrate some of these points. It runs 19-minutes.
A rather big add, though, is Ozu’s silent film I Was Born, But…, presented here in 1080p/24hz high-definition, accompanied with a score composed by Donald Sosin in 2008 presented in Dolby Digital mono. The film (which Criterion actually included in a previous Eclipse set) focuses on two children dealing with the possibility that their father isn’t the “big man/hero” they envision him to be and the fallout that comes from that. It’s a good film, though I have to say I’m still at a loss as to why it’s often cited that Good Morning is a remake of this film (which is why it is included here). Other than the fact the children are the central focus and a plot element involving a hunger strike that reminds me of the vow-of-silence/hunger-strike in Good Morning I can’t say there is much else all that similar between the two films. The plots differ greatly otherwise and I’m sure the film could be compared to a number of Ozu’s other family portraits. Still, this might be pointless to even ponder about as just getting the film in high-definition (sort of, I’ll get to that) will be good enough and it’s a title I don’t ever see Criterion rushing out all on its own.
As to the presentation I can’t say it’s strong. And that’s not in regard to the condition of the materials. No, because as expected there is some heavy damage, including tram lines, scratches, dirt, and even burns. It’s all there but it’s at least not as bad as I would have expected. Unfortunately the digital presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Again it’s a 1080p but I’m not entirely sure if this is simply an upscale of a standard-definition master or an actual high-definition presentation. At times it looks better than a standard-definition image but then it’s laced with a number of problems. Definition is a bit limited and details are hazy, but I grant that could be related more to the print materials and nothing to do with the master, so that may not be fair. Still, there are more obvious digital concerns, particularly macro-blocking and some interlacing artifacts. You can make out the lines from time to time (they become fairly obvious in some of the burns that pop up) and jagged edges pop up often enough, more obvious in rounded objects or some diagonal lines. Even though the encode is technically progressive in this case I’m guessing the interlacing is inherent in the master and is possibly a byproduct of adjusting for an odd framerate. It’s still watchable and I actually feel terrible nitpicking it, but the weak digital presentation just adds on to the problems with the source materials.
Criterion then adds another of Ozu’s works, this time with the 1929 silent film A Straightforward Boy, or at least 14-minutes of it. As the notes and opening title cards point out this (the beginning and end of the film) is all that remains. The story centers around a boy abducted right off of the street. He proves to be a bit much for the kidnapper and he hands the kid off to another individual to watch over, though this doesn’t go well at all itself. There is an obvious chunk missing thanks to a jarring cut: at one point the kidnapper is contemplating returning the child and then suddenly he’s taking him somewhere else to be watched over. Despite this large section missing (apparently more than half of the film) you still get a fairly complete story. The more slapstick-ish comedy doesn’t tie directly to Good Morning in any obvious way (its child star, Tomio Aoki, does appear in I Was Born, But…) other than a child being a main character, but it appears to be included because it was Ozu’s first film to center around a child character. The feature also does nicely accompany David Cairn’s essay on Ozu’s use of comedy in his films.
The film is presented in 1080p, though does look more like a standard-definition upscale and has some of the same interlacing and macro-blocking problems as I Was Born, But… Damage can be heavy but I didn’t find it distracting. The film is also presented completely silent without any sort of score.
The release then closes with an insert featuring an excellent essay on the film by Jonathan Rosenbaum, with mention of I Was Born But…. The essay by Rick Prelinger found in the original DVD edition has not been carried over, though this isn’t too big a loss.
It’s a modest little special edition but a solid one, the inclusion of two other works by Ozu making it feel like a decent little bargain.
A substantial improvement over Criterion’s previous DVD, this release offers a far stronger image and an actual selection of decent supplements.