I Was Born, But...

I Was Born, But... ★★★

I watched an Ozu movie, but...

Ozu without sound is a little odd. On one hand, this is still the sort of story he spent his career telling. Two cute little kids are having issues with bullying from classmates, so they try to avoid school entirely. Meanwhile, they observe and question the social dynamics they see playing out among their fathers. It's a small scale drama that pokes at the edges of social conventions, so recognizably Ozu. But in early, silent form, the cozy atmosphere that I also love this director for isn't there. His classic camera angles haven't been introduced, the camera moves far more than I expected, and that piano score is downright jaunty. It's not bad because it's different necessarily; it's just not quite as unique. My real issue is that this feels to me like a piece of art running up against technical limitations. Silent films aren't inferior to those with sound, they're just different. As a very conversational family drama, though, I can't help but think this would be better with sound. Not enough can be expressed through acting alone for what Ozu wants to say here, so there are loads of intertitles. A film about normal people having conversations can be lovely, but it's hard to make that enjoyable to watch in silent movies.

Of course, what the film is actually saying has a lot of merit. The children spend their time trying to one-up each other and playing out complex social in-group / out-group dynamics on the small scale before examining what adult life has in store for them. And what they find are disappointments and hierarchies. They've already learned at this young age that people have to prove themselves "important," and they don't understand why, but are distressed to find that someone else is socially "superior" to their father. I'll always love how Ozu casually comments on the world. I just wish I liked watching one a little more.

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