“Will they lead the same sorry lives that we have?”
The Eclipse box set title is “Three Family Comedies” but I’d forgotten that Ozu even made comedies until the opening titles played over a drawing of a kid holding his crotch. Then my realization “oh, this will be a zany comedy featuring kids doing dirty stuff” turned out to be off base. Sure, kids are the protagonists, and it features some comedy, but it all leads to the quote above (spoken by the kids’ father) which belongs firmly in drama territory.
Dad’s got a new job so he moves the family close to work. Actually he moves ’em into the suburb where his boss lives, and it comes out later that dad is kind of a suck-up. The kids are intimidated by a pretty mild gang from their school until they learn to use their wooden shoes as weapons and they dominate the group. It’s kinda like the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey but with Japanese schoolchildren instead of apes.
Most of the movie seems to be this low-key power struggle with the kids which includes searching for sparrow eggs to eat raw (to prove strength) and trying to get an ‘E’ (for ‘excellent’) in calligraphy at school. A scene at the boss’s house is the turning point. Everyone is watching the boss’s home movies in which our kids’ dad is making funny faces and cracking everyone up – everyone but his kids who are ashamed that their father is playing the fool. The older boy (Ryoichi) goes home, calls dad a yellowbelly and trashes the house until he gets spanked. Moods improve later and the movie ends with the kids relatively cheery again and getting along with the boss’s son (who dresses like Oddjob).
One scene I didn’t get: the bully kids find a valuable coin, pool their money to make change, then hand over the change to a policeman and walk away bummed out. What happened?
A scene in dad’s office where the camera follows a contagious yawn made me yawn too. Yes, there is camera movement in an Ozu film. Movie is obsessed with trains and streetcars too – there’s one passing behind the action whenever possible.
Apparently Ozu’s Good Morning nearly thirty years later was a semi-remake.
I Was Born, But…, which Ozu developed from his own story, is a social satire of comic delights and melancholy resignation to the innocence lost as the boys face up to the compromises that await them. The film won first prize at the Kinema Jumpo awards – the first of six such prizes he would eventually win – and is regarded as Ozu’s first genuine masterpiece.
“I started to make a film about children and ended up with a film about grown-ups,” said Ozu, speaking to the film’s dark side. Because of this, Shochiku didn’t know what to do with the picture, even delaying its release for two months. This potent mix of comedy and pathos within the domestic space would, of course, continue to dominate Ozu’s oeuvre in the coming decades—and while the age disparity between the generations would grow smaller, the resentment gap would grow even wider.