We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
Set in a suburban Tokyo housing estate in the late 1950s, Yasujiro's Ozu's Ohayo examines the rebellion of two young brothers against their parents
A reworking of Ozu's earlier silent movie I Was Born But... Good Morning (Oyaho) was made towards the end of the Japanese writer-director's distinguished career.
Aged 13 and 7 respectively, Minoru (Shidara) and Isamu Hayashi (Shimazu) slip away after school to watch sumo wrestling on a neighbouring couple's television set. Scolded by their own father (who reckons that TV "will produce 100 million idiots") for talking too much, the brothers decide on a vow of silence. After all don't grown-ups waste words with their silly phrases such as "good morning' and "fine day"?
Ozu doesn't just focus on the Hayashi family. He deftly weaves together a number of interconnected stories concerning other members of this particular community. A grandmother is roundly chastised by her busybody daughter for forgetting to tell her somebody had paid their dues to the local Women's Association. A teacher Heichiro (Sada) falls for the lady Setsuko (Kuga) who provides him with translation work. And an elderly man takes solace in alcohol after being let go by his employers.
Visually, Good Morning conforms to Ozu's trademark pared-down style. There are the punctuating establishing shots – in this case of passageways, kids walking to and from school, washing lines, and domestic exteriors – which establish the tightknit nature of the estate, where front doors literally open onto one another. The static camera never rises above waist level, and often takes up a low-angle perspective (reinforcing the sense of a child’s eye view), and there's a preference for deep-focus interior compositions.
Ozu displays an interesting ambivalence towards small talk in Good Morning. On the one hand the film shows the destructive nature of gossip, which helps to drive out the more bohemian couple, and which leads to various misunderstandings and false assumptions. On the other there's the acceptance of everyday banalities, what one character calls, "A kind of social lubrication that helps make living together possible."
Above all Good Morning is blessed with a comic streak. Those for whom Ozu represents the epitome of austere arthouse cinema may be surprised to learn that one of the film's dominant motifs is the passing of wind by Minoru and Isamu, a form of rebellion against the strictures of daily life. Finally there's the amusing sight of Heichiro attempting to woo Setsuo at the station, not through romantic words but by discussing the weather.
This may not be one of Ozu's most acclaimed works, yet its contemplative style and its qualities of humour, tenderness and absence of cynicism make for an absorbing film.
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