This 2-Disc Blu-ray Set offers two early films by acclaimed Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, who began his career during the era of silent films. Both movies, I WAS BORN, BUT… and THERE WAS A FATHER primarily explore father/son relationships, each film in their own unique way.

The first, I WAS BORN, BUT… is a silent b/w movie from 1932 (with English language intertitles). Part comedy and part domestic drama, the plot centres around the Yoshi family which has recently moved to a suburb in Tokyo. Their two young sons, Ryoichi (Hideo Sugawara) and Kejii (Tomio Aoki), struggle to make friends in the new school thanks to local bully boy Taro (Seiichi Kato) and his mates, who rarely miss an opportunity to humiliate and intimidate the two new kids on the block – be it by snatching food of them or challenging them to games they cannot win. Given the situation, both Ryoichi and Kejii decide to play truant although so far, they managed to lie to their parents, who have no inkling as to what’s going on. Naturally, the two brothers aren’t too keen on telling their parents either as they don’t wish to come across as weaklings. Ryoichi and Kejii keep on lying with great success, even fooling their mother (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) with the announcement that they won a calligraphy contest in school. Alas, it can only be a matter of time before the truth emerges and that day arrives when the boy’s teacher calls the parents into his office to have a word… When father Yoshii (Tatsuo Saito) learns of his sons truancy he is understandably angry, even when Ryoichi explains that main bully Taro happens to be the son of Yoshii’s boss Iwasaki (Takeshi Sakamoto), one of the reasons why Taro considers himself to be above everyone else in his school class.

However, father Yoshii isn’t interested in excuses and henceforth makes sure that his two sons attend class, offering a piece of advice by suggesting that if his sons don’t come across as if they can be easily intimidated and beaten up, then they won’t be intimidated and beaten up. Much to their chagrin, Ryoichi and Kejii begin to eat sparrow’s eggs in the belief it will make them stronger though the bullying continues. It’s only thanks to the help and interference of Kozou (Shoichi Kofujita), a slightly older delivery boy from the neighbourhood, that the tables are finally turned…
Meanwhile, father Yoshii and his family receive an invite from his boss Iwasaki to attend a home movie screening in his house – it goes without saying that this piece of news stirs up considerable excitement, not least because back then, only the wealthy could afford luxuries such as a film projector. When the film starts rolling, part of the footage depicts Iwasaki and his office workers on a day out, playing the fool and pulling capers in front of his colleagues. This display has a negative effect on Ryoichi and Kejii who feel that by playing the fool, their father’s position amongst his boss and colleagues cannot possibly be an important one. In fact, they accuse him of being just as ‘weak’ as they were against Taro and his gang and cannot understand why Yoshii is sucking up to his boss instead of standing his own ground. Out of protest, the two brothers stage a hunger strike (difficult considering mother’s delicious rice balls…) while Yoshii tries hard to explain his position at work, but ultimately admits he doesn’t really enjoy it. Can the family reconcile? Hideo Sugawara as Ryoichi and Tomio Aoki as Kejii are the real stars here and it’s entertaining to watch them scheming and lying out of necessity and, although too scared to take on Taro and his gang, have no problems arguing with their father who tries to explain in vain his lower social position in life.

The second b/w film, THERE WAS A FATHER (1942) is a sound film and in contrast to I Was Born… is considerably bleaker in tone, although it too focuses heavily on father/son relationship. It is also a typical example of a Japanese film made during wartime and has moralistic undertones, as exemplified when, during a reunion with a former teacher and his since grown-up pupils, highly patriotic and morale-boosting songs are sung. Widower Shuhei Horikawa (Chishu Ryu) earns his yens as a mathematics school-teacher in a junior secondary school, the same school which his ten-year old son Ryohei (Haruhiko Tsuda) attends. When not teaching, both father and son pursue their joint hobby: fishing, with Ryohei copying the exact movements of his father. One day, Shuhei takes his class on a school trip and cautions the boys from refraining to take a boat trip, however, one pupil doesn’t take the warning serious enough and embarks on a secret boat trip, resulting in the boat capsizing and the boy drowning. Beside himself with guilt, Shuhei hands in his resignation although the principal tries to persuade him to stay on, claiming that is was the boy’s own fault for having been disobedient. However, Shuehei insists that had he been sterner, the pupil in question would still be alive. Packing their belongings, both Shuhei and his son move to Ueda to live with a relative and Ryohei faces the daunting prospect of making new friends all over in the local junior high school. Worse, his father leaves him in the caring hands of a relative while he himself moves to Tokyo in the search for work and to finance his son’s education.

Years have passed and Ryohei (now played by Shuji Sano) is now a young man of twenty-five and has stepped in his father’s footsteps by working as a school teacher in Akita. His father, meanwhile, still resides in Tokyo where he works as a clerk in a textile factory, a humdrum job by the looks of it. From time to time, he visits his son in Akita and the two go fishing just like back in the old days. It becomes clear that Ryohei would like to move to Tokyo to be with his father and make up for lost time. Instead, Shuhei, still guilt-ridden over the accident years ago, has turned into a well-meaning yet stern man, eager to instill discipline in his son and instead lecturing him on the importance of “always doing everything to the best of one’s ability” by stressing that Ryohei has a duty towards his pupils in ensuring that they are well prepared for future jobs and future life. When Ryohei takes a ten-day holiday to spend quality time with his father before returning to Akita, little does he know that this will be the last time he’s going to spend time with Shuehei… The ending is quite melancholic but also deliberately left open… who knows what the future will hold in store for Ryohei? While not exactly a two-hander, a lot of screen time focuses on the interaction between father and son (both in younger years as well as in later years) and although one might argue that the plot here is somewhat simplistic, it’s the psychology behind the father/son interaction which makes this work engaging.

This HD Blu-ray Edition comes with the following Special Features: Newly recorded audio commentaries / Illustrated booklet with essays by Bryony Dixon, Tony Rayns and Ed Hughes (who composed a new score for I Was Born, But… , credits.