I Was Born, But... (Yasujiro Ozu / Japan, 1932):
(Otona no miru ehon... Umarete wa mita keredo)

"Maturity is often more absurd than youth, and very frequently is most unjust to youth" (Edison). The opening shot of the truck wheel spinning in the mud showcases Yasujiro Ozuís knack for pregnant gags, a bit later the suburban salaryman is seen exercising stiffly amid clotheslines while a trolley zips by (a change in angle reveals a cigarette on his lips). The neighborhood is Japanís Showa period with its wrapper still on, shoji sliding screens and white picket fences and marching exercises in the schoolyard; the new boys (Tomio Aoki and Hideo Sugawara) are deadpan liíl scrabblers who ditch class and come up with their own calligraphy grades, gulp down sparrow eggs to get the strength to face the bully, and, accepted into the peewee pecking order, enjoy a bit of bullying themselves. Filial pride ("My dadís more important than yours") leads the kids into the mansion of the local industrialist (Takeshi Sakamoto), where an evening of home movies reduces their esteemed father (Tatsuo Saito) from lord of the manor to kowtowing court jester. (Already an experimental investigator cloaked as a cozy antiquarian, Ozu weaves the cinema itself into the narrative as a medium of play that pierces for the truth: At first giggling at the projectorís flickering images, the brothers find themselves abruptly and dolorously illuminated and trudge out into a starless night.) Hal Roach humor sets up the Jamesian sting, the tatami shot expresses the ideal vantage for surveying the joys and banalities of youthful and adult existence, a pair of tracking shots plus one incisive cut link a classroom of students to a row of office drones (the laterally sprinting camera pauses just long enough to capture a yawn). Is there really no moral justification between one grown-up buffoon and another, just money? At home the boys refuse to eat their noodles in protest, gradually the lesson of hunger versus idealism sinks in. "Donít become a sorry apple-polisher like me, boys," Saito asks his slumbering brood, teaching them to accept the injustices of a regimented world while secretly yearning for their rebellion. With Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Teruyo Hayami, and Seiichi Kato. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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