Monday, January 7, 2008


This has to be the first January I have looked back over the preceding year without feeling overwhelmed with regrets. Mainly, I think this is because in 2007, after 20 years, I finally quit smoking. I woke up one morning in April and simply stopped. I am not quite sure why, except that I was, at the time, sort of seeing a pulmonologist (about a non-pulmonary matter) and I thought that if things were ever to get serious, it would probably be necessary to stop smoking. So, I exchanged one Freudian fixation for another. And while the relationship with my pulmonologist friend didn't last, the quitting smoking did.

Soon after this, other things started happening: I stopped having insomnia, which has plagued me on and off for 20 years--ever since I started smoking. My mind started clearing a bit, not totally, but enough to permit me to find my pen and start writing poems again. I am not sure I could even pick up a pen without my head surrounded by a fertile nimbus of fog: it would be too deliberate and too desperate an act.

I chose the phrase Ohayo for the title of this post, not because it is Morning in America, but because Ohayo (Japanese for 'Good Morning') is the title of a film (1959) by Yasujiro Ozu that I happened to watch last night. It is the story of two young boys, brothers, Minoru (Koji Shidara) and Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu), who are obsessed with televised Sumo and with being able to fart upon command. The boys decide to stop talking to adults entirely until their parents breakdown and buy them a television set.

Ozu (1903-63) directed over 50 movies, mostly domestic dramas, about Japanese family life. His are quiet films, characterized by stationary camera work; often the dialogue consists of formal Japanese delivered formally--in kimono, suit and tie, adults kneeling on tatami, in exquisitely framed shots--spartan interiors shot through doorways, down corridors, between houses--communities where the most poignant and profound feelings of longing, hope, disappointment, resolution, and love lie scarcely concealed beneath the surface of everyday manners.

What I enjoy so much about Ohayo is that I saw for the first time what Ozu is trying to get at beneath the banality of Good Morning, Hello, Goodbye. Even the numinous phrase, "I love you," can lose its meaning over time. In this movie, however, Love never becomes stale: the younger of the two brothers, Isamu, has the habit of the blurting out, "I love you," to closed doors, peoples' backs, and other inattentive objects at the most peculiar times. It is a phrase, I think, that does not appear in the movie anywhere in Japanese.

Perhaps it is pure linguistic coincidence that fart and art happen to rhyme in English, but how the boys labor to control their gaseous emissions (even going so far as to eat pumice shavings) forms a nice, light counterpoint to the surrounding adults tightly controlled lips and lives: those feelings too deep to acknowledge, or too awkward to express, but which inexorably leak out, sneak out, or burst out at the most inconvenient times.

These children, and their soft, dry, squeaks of joy (their farts sound more like new leather shoes than flabby ass-shatterers) are nicely and discretely distributed throughout the movie: they never distract from the whiff of scandal (involving missing social club dues) or fragrance of romance (between the boys' English tutor and their young, live-in aunt) swirling around the suburban development where everyone lives--and where the most popular topic of conversation is the weather.

The same cannot be said of the efforts of Minoru and Isamu's young friend and neighbor, whose name escapes me at the moment. He presents the viewer with a cautionary tale: the lad whose incontinent attempts at being one of the boys tends to end with a mournful walk home to mother and a change of pants.

Not everyone, you know, can be a fartist.

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