The predominance of Tokyo Story has done much to reduce Yasujiro Ozu’s prolific career (54 films between 1927 and 1962) to a mere single film, giving the impression that everything else is a build-up or repetition. Much of this is due to the fact that many of Ozu’s films are unavailable here in the US, though recent DVD releases (particularly Eclipse’s Late Ozu box) are providing long- overdue exposure. All of which makes the appearance of three of Ozu’s silent films on DVD — 1931’s Tokyo Chorus, 1932’s I Was Born, But… and 1933’s Passing Fancy — all the more exciting and significant (only I Was Born, But… was previously released on VHS).
Ozu’s career-long concern for “the family” is evident in each of these three tragicomedies. Tokyo Chorus is about an unemployed father who eventually takes a job as a sandwich man in order to support his family, while Passing Fancy concerns an illiterate single father who falls in love with a woman his friends consider much too young for him. And in I Was Born, But…, the highlight of the set (and for my money, a masterpiece to surpass Tokyo Story), two young brothers, while trying to gain the respect of the neighborhood gang, struggle to understand why their father isn’t “important” in the grand scheme of things. The profound simplicity of the children’s disobedience (“Just because he spanked me doesn’t make him important”) and parents’ concern (“Will they lead the same sorry lives we have?”) are characteristic of Ozu’s sensibility, a universal blend of quotidian comedy and transcendental tragedy. Donald Sosin’s new scores are also perfectly suited to Ozu’s work, striking a playful tone without overindulging in emotionality.