I Was Born, But...
Two young brothers throw a tantrum when they discover that their father isn't the most important man in his workplace.Two young brothers throw a tantrum when they discover that their father isn't the most important man in his workplace.Two young brothers throw a tantrum when they discover that their father isn't the most important man in his workplace.
It is cleverly structured, again a gentle touch but carefully applied; two brothers new on the block have to carve their own space while fending off a gang of bullies, this is mirrored in the adult world by having their father similarly have to struggle for advancement in the working place.
The extra layer is our insight into the beginnings of the Showa period; capitalist industrialization is intensified, Western styles increasingly applied over traditional mores. The adults are smartly dressed in suits, wear hats, smoke cigars. The family's house is situated on the side of railroad tracks, now and then trains come shooting off in the back of the frame, constant reminders of a modern life lunging forwards.
Again this is cleverly mirrored in the weave of the film itself, the specific image of the house by the tracks recalling La Roue, a French film that had spoken very clearly to the Japanese with its transient world of circular suffering. The whole carries hues of Chaplin's bittersweet whimsy, with a mobile camera derived from Sternberg, another favorite of early Japanese filmmakers. There is no benshi narrating this, just the intertitles, another Western norm.
Having just asserted power in their microcosm, the kids eventually discover that their father is a servile buffoon, a kind of court jester at the office; this revelation tearing down the facade of respectability the kids were looking up to, implicitly posits the whole working structure to be feudal, with the capitalist boss as just another kind of daimyo surrounded by fawning servants. This happens in a superb scene where everyone is gathered at the house of the boss to watch this newfangled thing called the movies. So it is the cinematic reflection that reveals truth, it was exciting to discover this moment of self-reference in a Japanese film of the time.
So even though Ozu's name usually brings to mind connotations of a purity distilled from tradition, this is breezy stuff, attuned with an emerging film culture abroad, explicitly modern in view and subject matter.
And knowing what we do now, there is biting commentary in the parting notion; asked what they want to do when they grow up, the two brothers very seriously assert that they want to be generals. The Japanese army had just invaded Manchuria the previous year.
- Dec 12, 2011