Starring Tatsuo Saitô,
Tomio Aoki and
As a child, I remember being awestruck by my father. He was a policeman. His "partner" was a huge German shepherd named Jude. He carried a gun and caught the bad guys. He was a hero, larger than life. My dad could definitely beat up your dad.
But then I got older. And I learned things about the world. There were other police officers who did work similar to my dad. Other kids' parents made more. Or maybe they had a bigger TV. Or maybe they met Bobby Clarke. My father was still a hero, someone who understood the world in ways I could barely comprehend. He just no longer resided on Mount Olympus.
Growing up is filled with these moments. Your world expands, sometimes in small increments or sometimes in miles. But as you learn, the mythic becomes mundane.
Yasujirô Ozu's I Was Born, But... perfectly captures that moment in growing up when you childhood innocence and naivete take one of their first hits.
Keiji and Ryoichi have just moved to a new suburban neighborhood with their parents. Their father Kennosuke hopes that living closer to his boss will be the ticket to a promotion and a better life.
The boys start skipping school to avoid a bully named Taro and his gang, but Kennosuke puts an end to that. So Keiji and Ryoichi go to Plan B: bribing an older boy to intimidate Taro. The plan works perfectly, not only putting an end to the newcomers' daily torment, but getting them invited into the gang.
The boys soon get into that most timeless of childhood arguments: whose father is the most important?The brothers learn that Taro is the son of Iwasaki, who is Kennosuke's boss. Their faith in their father's immense stature is momentarily shaken, but they rationalize Kennosuke's position in a way only children could.
That night, Keiji and Ryoichi go to Taro's house to watch some home movies. Kennosuke is there and becomes anxious when his sons arrive. The reason for his trepidation is soon clear. The films show Kennosuke as the office clown, making faces and serving as the butt of Iwasaki's jokes.
The boys are devastated. How could this very important man allow himself to be humiliated? Maybe dear old dad isn't all that they thought he was? Maybe, he is merely a man.
Every moment of I Was Born, But... feels completely authentic, as though Ozu is merely documenting a week in the life of this family. The children fight and play and argue as children seemingly have for all time. The conversations between parents and their kids are timeless, repeating words that will be familiar to the eye of families even today.
"The eye"? Yes, this film is a throwback if only by a couple of years. It's a silent film surrounded by talkies. Somehow, the approach only adds to the storybook-like element of the movie. Indeed, it's full title translates as An Adult's Picture Book View — I Was Born, But..., which feels exactly right.
I Was Born, But... sets forth an epic drama by placing us back into the mind of the children we once were. When every decision was the most important choice ever, and every slight was a crushing blow. The ending is on the one hand somewhat obvious, but it's also lyrical and perfect. Ozu may have set his "picture book" in Japan, but it's true power rests in its ability to transport the audience home. Wherever that may be.
***** out of *****