Reviews and notes
Yasujiro Ozu has been described by more than one writer as having the ability to take simple soap opera scenarios and elevate them to the realms of High Art. Working entirely within the gendai-geki genre of films that dealt with contemporary subjects, he made these whimsically low-key depictions of family life with such an intricate attention to nuance and detail that any apparent absences of tangible plot are barely noticeable. One always comes from an Ozu film feeling as if you've witnessed some fundamental truth about humanity, and this early silent film proves the point perfectly. Not only did it win the director the first of his six Kinema Jumpo Best Film of the Year awards, but it also paved the way for a style which would be developed and refined until his death on 12 December 1963, the day of his 60th birthday.
Scripted by Akira Fushimi, a highly regarded scriptwriter of the day who wrote a number of successful screenplays for amongst other directors, Heinosuke Gosho (the 1933 film adaptation of Yasunari Kawabata's The Izu Dancer (Izu no Odoriko)
), and Ozu (I Got Left Back, But... (Rakudai wa Shita Keredo)
1930), I WAS BORN, BUT?
was shot at Shochiku's Kamata studios before the company relocated their production facilities to Ofuna in 1936. It's approach and subject matter is typical of the type of films the company, who only entered the market in 1920, were trying to promote under the guiding hand of producer Shiro Kido; life-affirming and optimistic whilst broaching at least a few social issues. According to Donald Richie, Kido later described his goal as "to look at the reality of human nature through the everyday activities of society", nurturing such talents as Ozu to fulfil this dream. At any rate, the Kido approach rapidly led the company to become one of the most successful of the Japanese major studios.
As much as any of Ozu's films, I WAS BORN, BUT?
takes the intimate internal dynamics of the family unit as his point of reference to draw out broader generalistions about society as a whole, presenting us with a detailed yet non-judgemental snapshot of the customs and concerns of the time. Father is seen departing to work alongside his children, the youngsters balancing their packed lunches on their heads as mother Eiko sees them all off at the doorstep. Later on Ozu indulges us with a long pan of the father sitting at a row of desks populated by white-collared salarymen, immediate followed by a similar shot of the children's rowdy classroom as they scrape away at their slates. There the similarities between the two lifestyles seem to end, as the kids are later seen bunking off school, coughing and spluttering on a cigarette and kicking sand in each others faces, though such antics do not go on unnoticed for long, and they are soon back behind their desks.
Though the director later stated that it was with I WAS BORN, BUT?
that he decided to consciously eschew all usage of fade ins and fade outs, setting in motion the continuing simplification process of his film grammar that reached its apogee with the trademark minimalism of director's better known work of the 50s, all the staples we come to recognise in the director's later work are here: The put-upon salaryman stoically hiding behind his newspaper whilst mother acts as a silent yet sympathetic intermediary as her children play up to him (a very similar scene exists in the director's much later Good Morning (Ohayo)
1961), with the trademark low angle camera shots capturing these private scenes of domesticity. However, there's a slightly more slapstick element in this early film, as can be seen early on as Iwasaki helps out when the Yoshii's car gets stuck in the mud outside the new dream house they are moving into, further underlining father Yoshii's ignominious status in his relationship with his boss.
- Jasper Sharp, Midnight Eye, 16 July 2002.
This is the original version of the story about rebellious kids who feel betrayed by their father that Ozu remade as Good Morning
thirty-seven years later. I WAS BORN, BUT?
doesn't have the later films oscillations between comedy and a tragic sense of defeat; rather, it begins as a particularly riotous comedy, and then abruptly switches to a darker tone when the boys lose their respect for their father. It's silent (Ozu resisted talkies until 1935), but its visual style is so dynamic that you hardly notice; both the gags and the emotional disappointments are anchored in a sure sense of characterisation that remains wholly fresh, and the pace of the whole film is worthy of Buster Keaton at his best.
- Tony Rayns, Time Out Film Guide.
Weblink: Review by Kantorates, Cinespot
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