Yasujiro Ozu’s Film “I Was Born, But… ” will be screened with live piano and Benshi Narration at the Barbican on June 25th

The Barbican’s exhibition about Japanese homes and domestic architecture, The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, began on March 23rd and it finishes on June 25th with this special film which is one of Ozu’s earliest and his held in high regard by film critics.

Actually, every film screening has been well-picked and seems well-placed to compliment the exhibition by giving a myriad of stories connected to the Japanese home and show different living environments. The films that have been screened so far are Princess Kaguya, An Autumn Afternoon, Woman in the Dunes, The Crazy Family, Whisper of the Heart, and Only Yesterday. The final film is Yasujiro Ozu’s 1932 black-and-white silent film I Was Born, But… and it will be screened on June 25th at 16:00. What makes this screening even more special is that there will be benshi at the screening.

Here is the information:

Yasujiro Ozu

I Was Born, But…

大人の見る絵本 生れてはみたけれどOtona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo

Release Date: June 03rd, 1932

Running Time: 90 mins.

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Writer: Yasujiro Ozu, Geibei Ibushiya, Akira Fushimi (Screenplay),

Starring: Hideo Sugawara, Tomio Aoki, Tatsuo Saito, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Takeshi Sakamoto, Chishu Ryu,


This is one of Yasujiro Ozu’s earliest films and was made at a time when films were silent but cinemas hired Katsudo-Benshi and musicians to play live music and narration to help provide life to the action on the big screen. Benshi – narration and voice acting and commentary – survives to this day and in recent years it has become an event that has garnered a lot of interest from film fans and Japanophiles. There will be live piano and benshi narration at this film screening.

Synopsis from the Barbican: This early comedy from Yasujirô Ozu focuses on the Yoshii family – dad Kennosuke, his homemaker wife, and two sons Keiji and Ryoichi – who have just moved from Tokyo’s crowded city centre to a suburban development.

Straight away the two boys start slugging it out to find a place in the pecking order among the neighbourhood kids. One of those deposed by their wily antics is Taro, son of Mr Iwasaki, the owner of the company where Kennosuke works as a humble salaryman.

Then one night the Yoshii family are invited round to the Iwasaki’s, where the boys are mortified to see their dad dutifully kowtowing to his boss: “You tell us to become somebody, but you’re nobody. Why do you have to bow so much to Taro’s father?” Kennosuke’s attempts to explain the realities of the adult world to his sons leads to some soul-searching of his own.

I Was Born But Film Image

One of the few surviving examples of Ozu’s silent period filmmaking, like his later films this one focuses on the internal dynamics of a single family unit as a way of drawing out broader generalisations about contemporary Japanese society, and uses the low-angle camera shots of domestic interiors that would become his stylistic trademark.

This event is preceded by another on June 23rd which is all about the art of live narration for silent films. It’s called…

How to become a Benshi! Silent Cinema and the Art of Live Narration

Here’s more from the organisers:

Silent cinema was never truly silent. In Japan, silent films were accompanied not only by live music but also by Katsudo-Benshi. Providing live narration, on-screen voice acting and original commentary, Benshi became an influential and integral part of Japanese silent cinema.

In conjunction with the Barbican’s screening of Yasujiro Ozu’s I was Born, But… organised as part of The Japanese House exhibition, the Japan Foundation is delighted to present a special evening exploring the art of Benshi. Following an introductory talk by silent cinema specialist Pamela Hutchinson, Katsudo-Benshi Hideyuki Yamashiro and Silent Film Pianist Mie Yanashita will perform a clip from Orochi (1925) recreating an authentic Benshi experience. As part of his illustrated talk, Yamashiro will discuss Benshi as a contemporary occupation as well as the unique appeal of Japanese silent cinema.

This fascinating event will also offer a few audience members the chance to take to the stage and perform the role of Benshi under instruction from Yamashiro himself!

The event takes places at Foyles Bookshop, Level 6, 107 Charing Cross Rd, London, WC2H 0DT at June 23rd at 18:00. To book a place, click here.

2 thoughts on “Yasujiro Ozu’s Film “I Was Born, But… ” will be screened with live piano and Benshi Narration at the Barbican on June 25th

  1. When I watch an Ozu film, I feel like i’m reading a book.
    I have not seen this one, but I saw “The Only Son” last week.

    Notice how there is always a shot of laundry drying in every Ozu film?

    1. The Only Son has me in tears every time. Look after your mother… Unless she’s trying to kill you.

      I need to read some academic books about Ozu’s works then I might be able to say something intelligent about laundry drying!

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