Three young boys sitting next to one another, looking off to the side, scowlingalr

I Was Born, But ...
(Otona no miru ehon: Umarete wa mita keredo)

Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Screening on Film
Directed by Ozu Yasujiro.
With Saito Tatsuo, Sugawara Hideo, Tokkan Kozou.
Japan, 1932, 35mm, black & white, silent, 90 min.
Japanese intertitles with English subtitles.
Print source: HFA

Ozu himself was surprised by the grim undertone of the otherwise comedic I Was Born, But …, in which two boys must accept that their father is the office clown. Concerns about the film’s content led Shochiku to delay its release, upon which it drew significant praise and went on to win Kinema Junpo’s prestigious first prize. It is because of the film’s harsh lesson about humor as a necessary means of survival that its jokes are so profound. Two boys (Sugawara Hideo and Tokkan Kozou) are targeted by bullies, one of whom is the son of their father’s boss. The children believe that the solution is to show the bullies who is boss; their father disagrees. When they accidentally uncover the truth of their father’s lower position in the workplace hierarchy, the children are overcome by humiliation: how can their father be a patriarchal authority at home and a groveling underling at work? Neither spankings nor a hunger strike answers the question, which reveals itself to be a learning opportunity about the difference between public and private selves, how one can at once be a subservient worker and a dignified person.

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