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I Was Born, But…

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

How on earth did they manage to so completely control all of these kids, or generate such naturalistic performances while doing so? Among its many other distinctions, I Was Born, But… is a real milestone in the history of great child performances in film, from the front-and-centre to the most glancing and peripheral.

Yasujiro Ozu fans shouldn’t be surprised at the humour on display here, as a certain lightness graced even the most solemn or autumnal of the late works. They may be more understandably, more justifiably surprised at the extraordinarily tight, efficient filmmaking that is also on display here. Though the subject is decidedly and even defiantly Japanese—fuel for lots of generalizations (hierarchies, subordinations, etc.), and evidence for the rebuttal of same—this also feels like some propulsive early 30’s Warner Brothers’ picture. Framing and cutting and eyeline matches are exhilaratingly efficient.

Again, could this be Ozu, he of the meditative pace and the quiet profundity? Well, when this one came out he was young, and his job was to make comic pictures like these. In other words, the great artist started out as a craftsman, or a professional. Also, it’s not just Ozu, is it? For instance, Hideo Shigehara shot and edited this picture. Maybe he’s the auteur! Or maybe this film is the product of a collective effort. It’s an industrial product! And a fantastic one, too. Efficient, but not inhuman. There are lots of comic pauses here, but there are lots of reflective ones too.  I Was Born, But… is one of those not so infrequent, happy combinations that honourable film industry is so interested in: accessibility and substance, both in happy and equal balance.