I Was Born But… (1932)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Ozu's best-known silent film possesses one hallmark of a successful time machine to childhood: the sense of a discrete, secret world of kids—at once totally separate from and ultimately beholden and related to the rules of adults. Two brothers, sons of a suburban underling, elbow their way into a passable standing among fellow students, enduring and assimilating the hazing of a bully who's at least twice their size. Ozu fleshes out their school scene's puzzle of loyalty and kid integrity, before introducing Dad's professional standing.
The four-square sittings associated with Ozu's later masterpieces do not drive I Was Born But; the defining view here is the head-to-foot framing of pint-sized protagonists, filling the screen like the colossuses of their feuds and friendships that they are. Like other early Ozu work, the swing of their gestures and the editing borrows from Hollywood (even gangster films in the synchronized struts), the kids tidy little rascals in caps and cable-knit sweaters. They play, they fight, they sulk, they doubt lanky Dad (Tatsuo Saito), who toadies to his limo-commuting boss ("You tell us to become somebody but you're nobody.").
Ozu draws satirical parallels between bored youngsters and pencil-pushing grown-ups, but his subtler move is the emotional continuum for the kids parents: how the sons' brash challenge does eat away at Dad and radiate into the married couple's relationship. Showing with the newly subtitled restoration is A Straightforward Boy, an extended skit about a kidnapper overwhelmed by his bespectacled prey (both actors from I Was Born).
Opens June 25 at IFC Center