I Was Born, But...

I Was Born, But... ★★★★★


This is the film that cemented it for me: Yazujiro Ozu is a silent comedy genius right up there with Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy at this point. HIs gags, even for little takes or glimpses of a kid character, are as solid and ingenious as Keaton's--and with KIDS!

But it needs to be said: the two boys in this are the best Kid comedy team I've ever seen! Their Keatonesque deadpan responses to everything scary about being a kid in school or dealing with bullies is brilliant and shows how much more could be said with silence and a noncommittal face--as Keaton did. Sadly, by this time--the year my Dad was born--Keaton was far gone in drink and had lost the right to make great comedies and with the rise of talkies, was pretty much done except for supplying gags to others. That Ozu was making silent comedies of this caliber--with KIDS--shows him to be a master beyond anyone alive today, almost a century later.

It's not a coincidence that Ozu himself was a a younger brother. He must've learned these

One key element is that Ozu plays this deadpan sincere comedy straight without winking from the kids, and in doing so is able to get at the embarrassing and vulnerable feelings of being a kid--the fears that one's dad is powerful, rich or not--and goofy little things like playing hooky and eating sparrow's eggs. Watching the boys realize that their dad is a clown the rich boss keeps around to make goofy faces is embarrassing and humiliating--especially when revealed silently on film as others laugh at him. The complexity is that other boys actually even see their dad's comic turns as talent, where the boys themselves are ashamed of him.

Ozu must've wrestled with these feelings that his dad was a coward and a ne'r do well with all the times boys in his films tell fathers "I'm not afraid of you" and "You're a coward". It's so crucial to these boys that their dad is "Important"--and in the midst of the Depression, too.

Ozu's dramas decades later get broad appeal, but the sincere and subtle pathos underneath these comedies--especially the tonal shift to the concerned mother and the ashamed drinking father as they watch the boys sleeping and hope for a better future for their children--especially when we now know that these boys in ten years would likely be fighting America in a war that would destroy their country and subjugate them to American supervision ever after.

Special appreciation, to me, goes to the goofy boyish ritual of pretending to curse another boy with the two fingered Catholic sign that kills the boy till they genuflect him back to life. Brilliant silent gag that pays off time and time again. That's just good comedy film writing to set that gag up so it would pay off over and over and still kinda make sense decades later: it must've been some mocking of the Catholic priests who'd been in Japan for centuries.

But now, 91 years later, it's clear that there's no way to make a heartfelt and quirky comedy this good without a big-hearted genius with a world-class Gag toolbox that rivals Keatons.