Mr. Yoshii (Tatsuo Saito), an office clerk, has moved his young family into a new neighborhood in the suburbs, strategically located just a few blocks from his employer, Mr. Iwasaki (Takeshi Sakamoto). One afternoon, while playing outdoors, Yoshii’s younger son, Keichi (Tomio Aoki) catches the attention of the neighborhood children, among them, Iwasaki’s son, who proceed to tease him. His older brother, Ryoichi (Hideo Sugawara), comes to his rescue, but soon, the two find themselves outnumbered, and only narrowly escape when Mr. Yoshii passes by on the street. Fearing retaliation, the brothers decide to become truants, but are sent back to school by their father with the stern reasoning, “Don’t you want to go to school and become somebody?” Unable to escape their inevitable encounter with the school ruffians, Keichi befriends the delivery boy from the sake shop (Shoichi Kojufita) and persuades him to confront the gang’s self-appointed ringleader and teach him a lesson. After the bully runs away in tears, the other children soon turn their allegiance over to the brothers, who are quick to test their solidarity by having them obey a “resurrection” command. Soon, the vanquished boy returns with his father, and the children begin to argue their respective cases on whose father would be best suited to challenge the bully’s father. However, the brothers’ idolatry for their father is tested when they visit the Iwasaki home, and find their father as the subject of home movies playing the clown in front of the camera for the amusement of his boss.
Yasujiro Ozu creates a comic, witty, and incisive portrait of hypocrisy and social inequity in I Was Born But… In contrast to the more distilled gendai-geki (contemporary life portrait) drama that would characterize Ozu’s later films, I Was Born But... is rooted in the children’s learned social behavior and acceptance of compromise in a non-ideal environment: the delivery boy’s refusal to censure Iwasaki’s son because of his family’s patronage; Mr. Yoshii’s doting attention to the young boy as he keeps interrupting his sons’ attempt to “resurrect” him; the father’s clownish behavior in the home movies. As the boys’ attitude towards their father turn from magnanimous hero to embarrassing fool to sympathetic human being, Ozu presents a subtle, yet poignant observation on the children’s rite of passage as they move away from the safe and predictable rules of home life towards the illogical and often unjust hierarchical social customs of the real world.
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