Siskel Film Center’s Rise & Shine Series Wraps with Good Morning, a 1959 Rumination on the Every Day

This article was written by Anthony Miglieri.

The air is buoyant in the early hours—it reaches the brain more quickly than usual. Armed with seven to nine hours of sleep (ideally), we walk into the light ready to do battle with the day. The Gene Siskel Film Center understands we are at our sharpest in the AM, and it has invited us to funnel that focus into the art of morning filmgoing.

Rise & Shine, the Film Center’s latest series, began at 9:00am on Monday, June 10 with Tsai Ming-liang’s Abiding Nowhere (2024). The wordless vistas walked by the main character blurred the bridge from Sunday night’s dreams to reality. On Tuesday and Wednesday were Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman (2021) and Jean Renoir’s The River (1951), respectively—a pair of gentle visions to raise drooping eyelids.

The series will emerge from hibernation on Thursday, June 20 with Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One. Not only does William Greave’s 1968 film contain enough syllables to awaken even the drowsiest viewers, but its blend of fiction and documentary will keep the audience engaged for the rest of the day. And on Friday the 21st, the series will end with a salutation: Good Morning (1959).

For those who don’t care for coffee, Good Morning, Yasujiro Ozu’s first U.S.-released film, acts as a natural stimulant. Over the opening credits, composer Toshirō Mayuzumi douses us with a guitar-and-vibraphone sound bath recalling another leisurely 1950s classic, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953) by Jacques Tati. Good Morning further echoes that vacation saga with characters who drift horizontally between the layers of the frame. Tired or wired, we cannot help but fall into Ozu’s rhythm.

As many Ozu films do, Good Morning compares and contrasts the generations of Japan. But whereas the giants Late Spring (1949), Tokyo Story (1953), and An Autumn Afternoon (1962) focus on such major life checkpoints as marriage and death, this movie examines the tedious concerns in between. Mothers fret over missing women’s association dues; fathers bemoan the daily grind of work; and grandmothers fend off door-to-door salesmen. Meanwhile, sons fiend for a new television set so they can watch sumo wrestling instead of studying.

Dad (Chishū Ryū) fears TV will fill Japan with “100 million idiots,” foretelling only a fraction of the grip that screens have on the youth of 2024. Mom (Kuniko Miyake) scolds the boys for avoiding their studies. And so Minoru (Kôji Shitara) and his little brother/underling Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu) take a vow of silence until they receive their television. “It’s grown-ups who talk too much,” older brother Minoru says. “Hello. Good morning. Good evening.”

Although the film’s events revolve around the struggle over the TV, Ozu considers the concerns of each generation as equally valid and equally frivolous. All of these problems—misplaced dues, money concerns, gadget lust—are earthly constructions designed to occupy humans as we hurdle through time with the speed of an inchworm. And yet, just like the small talk the children bemoan, these nuisances are essential.

Heiichirô (Keiji Sada), the kids’ English teacher, calls phrases like “Good morning” the lubricant that allows adults to function. “Meaningless things are easy to say,” he rightly explains. These pleasantries plug up silences, provide a universal way to begin interactions, and allow us to avoid discussing important matters. But when used with skill, as Heiichirô does with his romantic interest ​​Setsuko (Yoshiko Kuga), small talk allows us to access more meaningful topics with others.

If pleasantries are the motor oil that keeps life moving, Ozu argues, inconveniences are the glue that keeps our existence from toppling. If all we had to worry about were our basic human needs and the grand indifference of the universe, the burden would crush us. The stuff in between occupies us, frustrates us, delights us, and colors our lives.

Each example of the Ozu Shot, the “pillow shot,” throws a net over a time and place. With his frozen camera, the filmmaker renders wisdom from any inanimate subject in his path, be it a building, an empty room, or smoke. In the final frames of Good Morning, Ozu gives us a pillow shot to remind us that this life of ours is as light as it is heavy. He sends us into the afternoon with a clothesline of underwear dancing in the breeze.

Tickets to Good Morning and Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One are available online. Each ticket comes with unlimited coffee from Dark Matter Coffee and 10% off your order at any Goddess and the Baker location in Chicago through June 24. As always, any contributions to the Gene Siskel Film Center Fund are appreciated.

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