I Was Born, But… (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932)
Two young brothers become the leaders of a gang of kids in their neighborhood. Their father is an office clerk who tries for advancement by playing up his boss. When the boys visit the boss' house with their father, they discover that their dad has been making a fool of himself to please his boss, who's son is an outwitted member of the boys' gang. The brothers' revolt claiming that hierarchy should be based on ability, not on social background.
Just like that, his story in I Was Born, But is methodically simple and is looped with the recurrence of scenes shown with the viewer’s new perspective with the lesson that the two brothers have learned while growing with their father and his social role. In Japan, casts and social status are highly hierarchised. As they struggle to fit into school they discover that their father is also struggling with his relationship with his boss.
The story is mostly told with the perspective of the two brothers and their child vision of the world. There’s not much emphasis on the role of the mother and the adults are never really isolated as story propellers.
Ozu’s ability at comedy is not a surprise because he often took the angle of comedy to tell his stories whilst not really committing for fat belly laughs, his approach is charming and on a softer note even if most of the themes he treated were serious. With the right approach we can laugh about anything and this is the best relief there is. Well, he learned from his influence of the early Charlie Chaplin shorts that he was so fond of growing up. Ozu managed to have his own trademark and made his films opposed to becoming an pale imitator.
So, with the wit of an old master, Ozu at twenty nine years old directed one of his most celebrated film. Glimpses of the calm storyteller he will become were already apparent and demonstrate his admiration for the early silent masters of comedy like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd.
Now part of the eminent Criterion collection in an Eclipse boxset, I Was Born, But… is an essential viewing.