English Title: I Was Born, But…
Original Title: Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Music: Donald Sosin
Cinematography: Hideo Shigehara
This Ozu’s early silent film was made when he was only 29, at a formative age, he has already acquired a keen eye on sieving the callous doctrine of the society’s pecuniary pecking order through the lens of two kids’ growing dismay and perplex.
Two school-age brothers Ryoichi (Sugawara) and Keiji (Aoki) are moving to suburbs with their parents, a shrewd move of their father Yoshi (Saitô, a virtuoso player jostle between primness and clownishness) to hobnob with his boss Iwasaki (Sakamoto). With a good salary, they can afford a better life here, but the boys have some difficulty to find their feet, especially when they are picked on by school bullies, led by a bigger kid (Iijima), they play truant and laze around, ask an older delivery boy (Kofujita) to forge teacher’s signature, all child’s play and they would be reprimanded by Yoshi when the lid is blown off. Nevertheless, Ozu applies a very gentle touch and a ludic attention in limning the boys’ daily expediency to tackle with their problems (there are not enough sparrow’s eggs in the world to beat their bully), and eventually the scale would be tipped when they are wise enough to crack the knack of how to succeed in becoming an alpha dog, even Taro (Katô), Iwasaki’s son, has to pay deference to the boys’ whims. (a children’s game but so rapier-like in its connotation linked to the power struggle in the adult world.)
Then comes a blow, during a friends-gathering in Iwasaki’s place, where films of daily vignettes are screened, a galling discovery would inflame the brothers’ chutzpah to brazenly question their father’s authority, “are you a successful person?”, “why can’t you be successful?”, it is a blow to the brothers’ unwitting but vaunted ego, which certainly doesn’t tally with their young age, and is a corollary of a society spurred and indoctrinated by sheer competition and capitalism, even for kids, they are possessed with the idea of supremacy, power and hubris, which outstrips the parameter of childish mischief. In retrospect, the film grants us a gander into the frame-of-mind of a pre-WWII Japan, but not prescient enough to pinpoint a more perspicacious outlook, instead, an anodyne finale betrays Ozu’s own perspective at that time.
The children in the film are well-trained scamps, endearing to watch, especially Tomio Aoki as the younger brother, transforms the disadvantage of his less photogenic looks into something archly expressive with all the gurning, imitating and feigning, a farceur is in the making. A minor grouch to Donald Sosin’s persistent attendant score, a relentless cascade of tunefulness can certainly overstay its welcome. Anyhow, a lesser comedy branded with Ozu’s name is still worth visiting, not the least for the sake of his masterful tutelage and coordination of his exuberant pupils in front of the camera.
comparison point: Ozu’s EARLY SUMMER (1951) 8.6/10