I Was Born But… (1932)

17 11 2008

Anybody who has bothered to read at least a week worth of posts on my blog will know that I absolutely love Yasujiro Ozu. He’s not unquestionably my favorite director ever, but he’s definitely the first response in my head whenever such a question is posed. This is why I’m a tad bit embarrassed about the fact that only now have I gotten around to one of his most acclaimed films. Even more embarrassing is the fact that I would perhaps even go to the length of saying this film is underrated. Sure, it is well respected as one of the most familiar works of Japan’s silent era of cinema, but it is so much more than that.

As with many of his silent films, including the 1935 masterpiece An Inn in Tokyo, crafts his drama within the atmosphere of the lower class. It’s been documented that as Ozu’s career progressed, the financial state of his characters got better. There’s very little that the young family in this film superficially shares with the one in say, Tokyo Story. Even with the potential of social commentary looming, Ozu delivers one of his most complete pictures. It sounds a little hokey to attempt to sell the film from this angle, but it really does have everything. Well, at least everything that I personally look for in a film.

Needless to say, the performances here are all pretty great. Tatsuo Saito, a figure in prewar Japanese cinema, plays the father of the film’s prepubescent protagonists. Of course, Tomio Aoki plays one of the boys. This might be the defining role in his entire career. Essentially, he does the same sort of thing in An Inn in Tokyo, but I couldn’t care less. It sounds a little weird, but there is definitely something bizarre and fascinating about his face. Even one of his schoolmates observes this – “he looks like a bug.” In that sense, it’s easy to think that Harmony Korine probably watched this movie a dozen times before making Gummo.

It seems like it has been awhile since I’ve brought up Korine’s masterpiece, but it really owes a great deal of the dynamic between Jacob Reynolds and Nick Sutton to the one here between Tomio Aoki and Hideo Sugawara. There’s one particular scene in which the boys find a cigarette bud and proceed in smoking it, the sort of thing that would make Korine smile. I don’t want to underscore Ozu’s film by constantly comparing it to a movie that wouldn’t be made for another 65 years, but perhaps such an extended time span is reflective of this film’s genius.

Of course, there’s plenty of other things worth mentioning, such as a nearly perfect example of Ozu’s later aesthetic with only a few brilliantly placed tracking shots here and there. In fact, these tracking shots seem to perfectly compliment the whole “kinetic” feeling that normally is the polar opposite of the tone of an Ozu film. Obviously, both approaches work for me, but was still extremly exciting to see one of the best directors ever attempt something slightly different than usual. There’s other things worth mentioning too, like the fact that the film is seriously one of the funniest things ever. It’s a comedy, but in the exact opposite way that a silent film should be a comedy and I say that in the best possible way. There’s some Keaton-inspired gags, but they are beautifully masked in Ozu’s universe. If I haven’t made it clear yet: this is absolutely one of the best movies ever made.

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7 responses

18 11 2008
DG

Interesting, I think this is Z’s favourite Ozu…

18 11 2008
wkw

I’ve been wanting to see this for a while. Hopefully it will be addressed this weekend.

18 11 2008
gaston monescu

I was also very impressed by I Was Born But …

Actually, that silent Ozu box set is pretty amazing. He was very skilled before sound and he is one of my favorite silent directors, like top five or something.

18 11 2008
Michael Kerpan

The Eclipse Box Set is welcome — but only scrapes the surface of Ozu’s silent work. I Was Born but is great, but so are many of his other silents. and I like some of Naruse’s and Shimizu’s silent work equally well.

18 11 2008
Jake Savage

Naruse’s Apart From You is wonderful, one of Naruse’s all-time best. Street Without End? Not so much. I still have yet to see Every Night Dreams.

19 11 2008
Eli

I’ve sadly never seen a silent Ozu film. I should correct that mistake soon. Very soon.

19 11 2008
Michael Kerpan

Every Night Dreams and Apart From You are quite different (in some ways) but almost equally great. Nasanunaka (The Stepmother / Not Blood Relations) comes close. Flunky work Hard is a bit raw stil, but very interesting. I like Street without End well enough, but it isn’t at the top of my Naruse list.

Shimizu’s Eclipse and Seven Seas and Japanese Girls at the Harbor are all outstading too. ;~}

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