I Was Born, But...

"Excellent"

I Was Born, But... Review


Like several other critics who have reviewed I Was Born, But..., I couldn't help but think of The Little Rascals as I watched this 1932 silent Japanese film, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Yet another early minor masterpiece from Yasujiro Ozu, perhaps Japan's greatest director, the movie focuses on a lively gang of kids in a scruffy neighborhood who play hooky, get into mischief, and tangle with bullies. They'd fit right in with Spanky and Alfalfa.

But beyond the light comedy are some pretty heavy messages about conformity, adult hypocrisy, and the challenges of successful parent/child relationships. Ozu takes it all on, but never loses sight of the fun.

When Chichi (Tatsuo Saito), a husband and father of two young sons, moves his family to a new town to be closer to his new job, the boys, Ryoichi (Hideo Sugawara) and Kenji (Tomio Aoki) aren't thrilled but are willing to make a go of it until the local gang of kids, led by a tough bully, torments them enough to inspire them to start skipping school. Taro (Seiichi Kato), one of the kids in the gang, is the son of Chichi's new boss (Ozu favorite Takeshi Sakamoto), a fact that will cause trouble later on.

As it turns out, Dad is a big fat brown-noser (or "apple polisher," as his co-workers call him), always sucking up to the boss in embarrassing fashion. His sons see this for themselves when they attend an evening of home movies at the boss's house, only to watch how their father was more than willing to humiliate himself by mugging for the camera to make the boss laugh. The boys are outraged. "You tell us to become somebody, but you're nobody," Ryoichi shrieks, and the two decide to go on a short-lived hunger strike to express their disapproval. Dad doesn't have much of a response, explaining only that some people have money and power and some people don't.

Later, when he asks the boys what they want to be when they grow up, they both quickly respond that they want to be Army officers, a chilling bit of information given that Japan's march across Asia was to begin just a few years later. Note also that while the kids despise their father for his corporate conformity and lockstep willingness to follow orders, their ambitions are really no different. What could be more conformist than joining the military in a fascist society?

Sociology and history aside, I Was Born, But... is also a romp and never loses its sense of humor. The kids are cute, and the power shifts that the little gang constantly undergoes are fun to watch. Ozu never lost his touch with children. In fact, 27 years later he recycled the idea of two young brothers rebelling against their parents in Good Morning, a story in which the youngsters demand to watch more TV but are summarily rebuffed. Sit back and enjoy the lively piano soundtrack added for this Criterion Collection DVD release.

Aka Otona no miru ehon - Umarete wa mita keredo.

Where's Petie?



I Was Born, But...

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Friday 3rd June 1932

Distributed by: Janus Films

Production compaines: Shôchiku Eiga

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 21

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Tomio Aoki as Keiji (as Tokkan-Kozou), Tatsuo Saitô as Chichi, Mitsuko Yoshikawa as Haha, Hideo Sugawara as Ryoichi, Takeshi Sakamoto as Juuyaku, Teruyo Hayami as Fujin, Seiichi Kato as Kodomo

Also starring:

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