Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay: Akira Fushimi, Geibei Ibusuya / Tadao Ikeda, Takao Yanai, Yasujirō Ozu
Starring: Tatsuo Saito, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Hideo Sugawara, Kozo Tokkan (Tomio Aoki), Takeshi Sakamoto, Teruyo Hayami, Seiichi Kato, Shoichi Kofujita, Seiji Nishimura, Chishu Ryu / Shuji Sano, Haruhiko Tsuda, Shin Saburi, Mitsuko Mito, Masayoshi Otsuka, Shinichi Himori,
Country: Japan
Running Time: 91 / 93 minutes
Year: 1932 / 1942

The BFI have previously released much of legendary Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s work before. Both films on this new release were included. But this new release is a smart and welcome upgrade. Ozu’s 1932 silent comedy I Was Born, But… was previously released in standard definition with the Good Morning Blu-ray. Now, it’s restored from 4k and has its own commentary. In fact, it looks better than There Was A Father but that’s understandable. That was previously included with Equinox Flower. The 1942 film is now fully restored, with some sequences reinstated after they had been removed from the original releases, and includes a commentary.

Both films are sublime. I Was Born, But… is about two rather cheeky boys, who Ozu clearly indulges, trying to fit in with their peers. Disappointed in seeing their father subservient to another man from his company, they realise the unfairness at school is reflected at home too.

Exploring the plot further would only undermine the conclusion if you haven’t seen it before. If it seems slight, it is. Ozu’s style is founded on a stripped back aesthetic; minimal camera movement and even less unnecessary plot. His compositions typically sit at a lower point of view than his contemporaries, but his characters are so sympathetic, they don’t invade or abuse the reduced space between them and the viewer.

There Was A Father is a delightful film with a more ambitious narrative. An impressive scope, not unlike Akira Kurosawa’s Ikuru. The story follows the relationship between a son and his father, over a couple of decades, as the father, a teacher, tries to reconcile a terrible accident for which he felt responsible. He tries to abandon teaching as a way of making amends, but his own son’s schooling becomes paramount. By the way, “ambitious” and “scope” should not imply that there is any more plot than I Was Born, But…. The story is still presented as concisely, but equally warm.

It’s a fascinating pair of films. Both about relationships with fathers, but one a comedy (albeit one with a dark edge), one a drama. One a very slight, seemingly inconsequential story, the other covering a lifetime. And yet both could be part of the same film. The same family, even, thanks to Ozu’s unique ability to observe familial relationships in which we can see ourselves. His themes are timeless. Most importantly, neither film is a challenge to watch despite their age; Ozu’s superlative, inviting style remains mesmerising and the relaxed performances of his cast disguise finely tuned productions that can only be delivered by cinema. His most famous masterwork is Tokyo Story, but Ozu seemingly never stopped trying to distil and perfect his vision. This release is an opportunity to watch some of those threads taking form.

I’m not sure there is anything quite like Ozu’s body of work in contemporary film, and it may yet outlast all of us. That it all seems so enthrallingly ordinary is surely the mark of a genius artist.

VIDEO

In pure presentation, I Was Born, But… is the star. The silky Black and white is a big upgrade on the previous release and is a fabulous example of Ozu’s grasp of composition (all the more extraordinary when you consider it was made in a period of turmoil for Japanese cinema). The gorgeous, silvery image is bright, detailed and consistent throughout.

While There Was A Father is also a visible improvement on the previous release, it remains a rougher, less consistent film. Still, it’s a treasure in any form and this particular form is one from a myriad of sources, so this is merely an observation.

EXTRA FEATURES

  • Newly restored and presented in High Definition
  • Newly recorded audio commentaries on both films by writer and film critic Adrian Martin
  • **FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Illustrated booklet with an essay on I Was Born, But… by silent film expert Bryony Dixon, writing on There Was A Father by Tony Rayns, and notes on his score for I Was Born, But… by composer Ed Hughes

Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu: I Was Born, But... & There Was a Father
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