February 4, 1962 [Good Morning]

Before today I haven't seen any movies directed by Japan's Yasujiro Ozu, but if Good Morning is an indication, he is a man of benign good will and patience, indulgent of the foolish things that come out of us--at both ends. My children were delighted: On the ride home the film gave them the courage to recite for their parents one of their favorite schoolyard poems--in which beans are presented as a musical fruit, giving rise to the ability to toot--and "the more you toot, the better you feel / So eat beans at every meal."

Flatulence, however, is only half the feature. The grownups in the picture maintain the fabric of society with good-mornings and nice-weather-todays and thank-yous--small latches and fasteners, snug little buttons to keep themselves from saying more. And it almost works, all this stem-and-stern wind. The kids play a game: press the other kid's forehead and a wee squeak emits from the Netherlands--except for the over-achievers, who produce something of substance, and must slink home. And not just the kids: Grandpa is a pro, his hindquarter harumphs misheard by his wife, who invariably pokes her head into the room, wondering if he called her. The adults pick their way through housewife politics and husband obligations with bland courtesies and smiling mistrust--or love hidden like a smile behind a hand.

And then the revolution: The kids, done with little squeezing peeps, shut it all down, refusing to speak because they want a TV set. They throw tantrums and stick out their tongues, just like American brats. Naughty brothers, the big one leading the little one astray; but Junior never neglects--when he's allowed to speak--to contribute his own little bit of social glue, a cheerful "I love you" in English. During the boys' TV storms, my wife whispered, "Those children are awful!"--but she smiled when the little guy told his mother he loved her--and they love them, ignoring better judgment and caving in, the TV delivered--bought from a neighbor newly employed as an appliance salesman, another small wave of the hand, friendship through the side door.

By the end, the important things aren't said--but Ozu gives us many chances to see, his camera still and his subjects gracefully framed, their Japanese homes filled with enough horizontals and verticals to place each of them in tidy frames, while off to one side little squares of color echo from scene to scene, reassuring me that the unspoken words somehow hang in the air of the strange little neighborhood, squeezed in at the edge of a broad expanse, where I think most of them know what's important--wordless as it remains--their toots and smiles understood, the weather fine in a particularly good morning.


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