As talented as Ozu undoubtedly was, he rarely stretched himself. He had certain themes and techniques he liked and he stuck with them. As a consequence, there is a certain sameness to most of his works. Some may be better realized than others are, but their differences are fairly minor and are differences of quality, not of kind.
Most of Ohayo, in fact, is concerned with the same simple domestic situations Ozu's other movies are, and visually it is as pleasant and simple as are any of those movies. That said, it is also suffused with such a sense of sprightly fun and humorousness that it does stand out from much of what the director did. It has some truly funny moments.
While many of the incidents Ozu presents are comic in tone, they are often touching as well. It is, for example, unlikely that any sensitive viewer will not find himself caught up in the lives of two young brothers when he sees how they decide to refuse to speak to anyone in order to protest their being told to be quiet after they annoyed their father by nagging him for a television. The actions of the pair may be funny, but the children's frustrations, worries, motivations, and the like are effectively and affectingly delineated. The scenes that follow the boys' vow to be silent are hilarious, realized with an eye for veracity, and animated by a sense of nostalgia that never becomes saccharine.
This is hardly the only wonderful situation in the movie, however. At other times, Ozu reveals how the elder of these boys is eating pumice because he believes it gives him the ability to fart on command, how one retired man, unable to make ends meet, rejoices in a new job as a salesman, how another salesman is outwitted by a crafty old woman, how several of the neighborhood women suspect that one of their number has stolen money from them, how those same women gossip about a young and disreputable couple, and so on and so on
There is hardly a moment of the film that is not both human and humorous. That, I might add, is not a mean accomplishment. Ozu really has created a delightful movie that, while comic, never loses its ability to capture the simple realities of ordinary life.
What is more, the lives of Ohayo's characters and the world these persons inhabit are both beautifully realized visually. Ozu depicts a neighborhood of little houses that are set so close together that they often seem to merge with one another as people stop by for visits, as a drunken man walks into someone else's home when he mistakes it for his own, or as children constantly move around from one place to the next as though the whole street was a single home for them.
I am not sure if I can claim that Ohayo is Ozu's best movie (they are almost all wonderful), but it is probably my favorite. It is a pleasure to watch from its first moment until its last.
Review by Keith Allen
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