Being Two Isn’t Easy

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I had confused Ichikawa Kon ‘s (1962) “Watashi wa nisai” (Being Two Isn’t Easy) with Ozu’s (1959) charming “Ohayô” (Good Morning).* Long before the “Look Who’s Talking” movies, Ichikawa had an infant narrator (a less sardonic one) reporting frustrations with his parents’ child-rearing (and appreciating his doting paternal grandmother’s). The baby boy is heard from often, but by no means provides continuous narration. There is at least one terrifying scene that does not include him at all, and he is often sleeping during conversations between his parents, , who would also play a major role the next year in Ichikawa’s “An Actor’s Revenge ,” and some of those between his mother and his grandmother (Urabe Kumeko).

The movie is a little gooey a portrait of parenthood maturing parents and extremely different from Ichikawa’s grisly WWII dramas “Fire on the Plains” and “The Burmese Harp.” He had great range, also pulling together the greatest of Olympic documentaries, “Tokyo Olympiad” (1965).

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BTW, “Being Two” is about the first year of the baby boy. Japanese are considered to be one year old when they are born, and the film ends with the anniversary of his birth (turning two by Japanese reckoning, one by Anglophone). The infant boy first voices over blurry images when he is nineteen days old.

I think it is the mother’s sister (though it may have been a neighbor in the apartment building onto the stairway of which the boy has wandered) who tells the mother that it is necessary to keep the child in view every minute until he starts kindergarten. This one is quite a handful, quickly learning how to open his crib, whether it is tied shut or screwed shut, and visualizing climbing over the barrier his father builds to keep him inside the apartment.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie has a roomful of squalling children who got separated from their parents at the zoo. Of course, our protagonist is puzzled why he is there and why all these children are making so much noise. Other than being confined with other children, his primary interest at the zoo is watching monkeys. His father thinks he should be more interested in elephants and giraffes, but it does not surprise me that monkeys exercise special fascination for very young children (I’m pretty sure for me in the day). Being Japanese, the boy is also transfixed by the moon, seeing it sometimes as a banana, sometimes as the benign face of his grandmother.

The muted conflicts between the parents generally stem from the father’s half-hearted at best ventures into taking any responsibility for housework or child-rearing. His mother, with whom they go to live when the son who has been living with her is transferred from Tokyo to Osaka, is adamant that a man should do nothing at home except relax. And, as grandparents are prone to, she spoils the child to the dismay of her daughter-in-law.

Being a parent of an infant is not easy, as the film reminds viewers. I think the movie appeals not only to those who have raised newborn children but to everyone who has ever been a baby.

* Getting television sets is a major plot element in Ozu’s movie, as well as Ichikawa’s. The headstrong boy in Ozu’s is older than the one in Ichikawa’s.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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