Silent Ozu

Yasujiro Ozu made three outstanding films in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Better known as the “Noriko Trilogy,” the films included “Late Spring,” from 1949, “Early Summer,” from 1951, and “Tokyo Story,” from 1953.  All three pictures include wonderful small stories about family expectations, careers and societal pressure.  He used claustrophobic camera angles and shots of trains moving away from the viewer across the screen.

A father watches his boys off to school.

These characteristic Ozu touches also show up in the 1932 silent film called “I Was Born, But….”  The story revolves around 2 rebellious boys (around age 10) and their hardworking mother and father doing their best to follow the prescribed rules in Japanese society for bringing up children.  As the boys follow and learn from the neighborhood bully, they pick up bad habits that put them at odds with both their parents and their school.

Ozu presents the family tension with pathos, and when the boys stage a hunger strike, I felt sorry for their patient but worried parents — who struggle to maintain control while teaching an important lesson to their children.  After the mother offers the boys some rice balls, Ozu expertly shows both the boys willfulness and the power of forgiveness.  Ozu and the camera waits with full emotion as we see the family conflict resolved.

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