Children Farther Than the Men

11 Aug 2013: I Was Born, But… (DVD, 1930, Yasujiro Ozu)

Maybe the first silent film I’ve seen with children as the (not just some) main characters, and probably the most mature of any with sound as well, in that they can change and forgive without major crises, and they are sensitive to economic realities. Smooth diagonal dolly-shots link office-workers with their children at school, the latter of whom go from bullying each other in the suburbs to reflecting on the differences (and perhaps subtle bullyings of another kind) between their parents, following a sequence halfway through the film in which the boss invites his employees over to watch home movies and everyone gets to watch and laugh at the main characters’ father making the same face again and again to humiliate himself. The confrontation that ensues between father and sons generates very serious conversations, in the midst of what is supposed to be a comedy, about the changing social dynamics of Japan and the world and the worth and “importance” of adults in relation to others: can parents have authority and command respect if they themselves are subservient cogs, and what’s the purpose of schooling if the rich are predestined to rule the less so regardless of merit? In the film the interesting conclusion is that adults are confined to power relations that children feel exempt from, since kids can act as equals and value each others’ parents.

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