Floating Weeds Movie Review

All serious students of film eventually find their way to Yasujiro Ozu, the legendary Japanese director who made many small-scale yet gut-wrenching family dramas over a long career, the best example of which, Tokyo Story, is a five-star filmcritic.com pick.

Ozu's career was so long that in one case, he made the same movie twice. 1959's Floating Weeds is actually a remake of Ozu's own 1934 Story of Floating Weeds, a silent film that's included as part of this Criterion DVD and is well worth renting in tandem with Floating Weeds to see Ozu's evolution over time. Some of the same actors even appear in both films, albeit in different roles.

Floating Weeds begins with the arrival in a small fishing village of a rag-tag traveling theater group led by the affable Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura). Along with his girlfriend Sumiko (Machiko Kyo) and his band of long-time colleagues, he puts on cut-rate kabuki shows for extended runs, while his manager goes on ahead to try to find bookings in the next town.

But there's something special about this town, which we learn when Komajuro shops by to visit Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura), a local bar owner. It turns out she's the mother of Komajuro's son Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), a teenager who has been led to believe that Komajuro is actually an eccentric uncle who comes to visit every few years.

Komajuro doesn't want Kiyoshi to discover his true parentage because he feels he's a no-good vagabond in a disreputable profession. But when the jealous Sumiko finds out her boyfriend has a son, she's so angry she asks Kayo (Ayako Wakao), an actress in the group, to try to seduce Kiyoshi. Kayo succeeds all too easily but then falls truly in love. Komajuro is despondent. The last thing he wants for his son is to hook up with a traveling actress. The boy is supposed to have an honorable future, but how can he tell Kiyoshi what to do without revealing who he really is?

Much has been made of Ozu's directing style, which is deceptively simple. His takes are long, his shots are almost always at a medium distance (no dramatic close-ups), and the camera is always positioned just a few feet off the floor, as if we the viewers were sitting on tatami mats just a few feet across the room. The overall effect is intimacy. There's no drama in the editing; it's all in the conversations, conversations it seems we're overhearing since Ozu has us sitting unobtrusively in the corner taking it all in. That's where the emotional power comes in. We're with these people, and we get to know them. We care about them, and we want a happy ending. When it can't be supplied, we're devastated.

It would be easy to say Floating Weeds is very "Japanese," but it's more than that. Like all of Ozu's work, it's incredibly human, and that can be a rarity in the artificial world of the cinema.

DVD extra: In addition to aforementioned original Story of Floating Weeds, Roger Ebert supplies a fascinating commentary track that clearly conveys his deep admiration for Ozu's complete body of work.

Aka Ukigusa.

And smiling girls.

Comments

Floating Weeds Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1959

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