Criterion Blu-Ray Review: Yasujiro Ozu’s ‘I Was Born But…’ & ‘Good Morning’

Seventeen years after a bare bones DVD, the Criterion Collection finally gives us a new edition of Yasujiro Ozu’s late-career color masterpiece Good Morning (Ohayō) (1959). The wait was worth it. This extraordinary Blu-Ray release is phenomenal, with the inclusion of I Was Born, But…, Ozu’s 1932 silent classic.

The two films go together hand-in-hand, but since Criterion already released I Was Born, But… in an Eclipse Series package with two other Ozu silent films, you could argue that its inclusion here wasn’t necessary. Although the films are different, its themes are repeated. But having it here makes the set feel more complete. Although Good Morning only adapts themes from I Was Born, But…, seeing them back-to-back reveals how much Ozu developed as an artist over a 27-year period.

I Was Born, But… might look crude to those familiar with Ozu’s iconic dramas, like Late Spring and Tokyo Story. It’s about two young boys –
Keiji (Tomio Aoki) and Ryoichi (Hideo Sugawara) – who move to a new neighborhood and are bullied by their classmates. They moved so their father, Chichi (Tatsuo Saito) could be closer to his boss and they first think their father is as important as other fathers in the area. When they see their father bowing to their boss, they are crushed. In the end though, they learn that their father is working hard to make sure that they can be the executives when they grow up.

The film is very different from Ozu’s later work, but it also has hints of themes that would even become important to Tokyo Story. Ozu was a master at presenting family life, even in 1932. But he was still working on his techniques as a filmmaker. For example, the film doesn’t open with people-less shots of the film’s setting, like many of Ozu’s other movies do. The camera is also a little more fluid, even as Ozu seems to have perfected his framing of actors already. Some close-ups look like they could be spliced into Tokyo Story and you wouldn’t notice.

The main film on the Blu-Ray is Good Morning, released 27 years after I Was Born, But…. The film is a perfect amalgam of the techniques of his dramatic classics with the comedic gags that Ozu was known for in the silent days. This time, the story of the two boys (who are desperate for a television) is only one part of the film. It’s more about the goings-on in a small neighborhood, where everyone knows each other and no one has to knock before entering. It’s also a world where gossip and misunderstanding can ruin relationships.

In fact, Good Morning is all about communication and its importance in how we relate to one another. We see how it can destroy friendships and how it could bring together potential lovers. But we also see how formality and “crutches” like meaningless chat can get in our way. It’s an incredibly relevant movie for 2017 and it’s a shame so many people haven’t seen it. After 94 minutes in Ozu’s world, you can learn that technology often acts as an impediment to our relationships.

The Blu-Ray

The original DVD edition of Good Morning had no extras, just a leaflet with an essay. So this Blu-Ray is much more than a format upgrade. First off, Good Morning itself looks remarkable thanks to a new 4K restoration. The sound might come off as a little soft, but you can certainly hear the musicality of the farts.

As for I Was Born, But…, that film is in full 1080p, but it looks like a straight upscale of a DVD. Obviously a silent Japanese film is not going to look as good as a color one from 1959, and it is watchable.

And now for the extras:

  • I Was Born But… – Presented in its entirety.
  • A Straightforward Boy – Unfortunately, many of Ozu’s silent films do not survive, including his first film, Sword of PenitenceDays of Youth from 1929 is his oldest-surviving complete film. In 1929, Ozu also made A Straightforward Boy, a comedy. Only 14 minutes of it survives and Criterion included it all here for us to enjoy. It’s about a kidnapping scheme, where a child is taken by a gang. The film relies far more on straightforward slaptsick than I Was Born, But… and Good Morning, but it’s a cool inclusion because Tomio Aoki is the child star. It’s also great to have because Criterion clearly tried to present a disc that introduces viewers to the comedy side of Ozu’s films.
  • David Cairns – In this 17-minute essay, Cairns explains how important comedy is to Ozu and how it fits in the filmography of a legendary director most think of as a serious filmmaker.
  • David Bordwell – In this 19-minute essay, Bordwell focuses mostly on the connections between the two films on the disc and how rhythmic our farts can truly be.
  • “Structures and Strictures in Suburbia” – The leaflet includes an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Tatsuro Kiushi also provides the artwork.

I can’t say much more about this set other than how it is a must-have for anyone who likes Ozu’s films. But it’s also a movie everyone should see. Let the humor be your doorway into a movie that examines human nature and communication through the lends of a singular master. No one has ever made films like Ozu and each one gives a unique look into what makes people people.

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