on 31 March 2015
Warning: some plot points are revealed in this review
Floating Weeds from 1959 is a film from Yasujiro Ozu's final period, and also one of his first in color. He told the story before, in 1934, only that was a black and white silent film. But he followed the plot of the first film very closely.
The story has a mediocre traveling Kabouki troupe reaching a small port village in Southern Japan to perform. Their performances only attract a few townspeople, but to Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), the troupe's leader, the visit is an important occasion to meet his old lover, Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) and their grown child Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who is about to enter college and believes Komajuro is his uncle. When Komajuro's current lover, the pretty Sumiko (Machiko Kyo) learns about this, she blows in rage, and persuades another actress of the troupe, the pretty Kayao (Ayako Wakao) to seduce Kiyoshi. Kayao succeeds in the mission, so much so that she falls in love with Kiyoshi. When Komajuro learns about their relation, he doesn't take it so well (Komajuro repeatedly beating Sumiko and Kayo while shouting to them "you slut" are scenes that would probably not be filmed today), especially since he wants his son to have a life above that of a traveling acting troupe.
This is not the very best of Ozu (I put the so called Noriko trilogy there, one of the crowning heights of cinema) but is still very good. There are a lot of Ozu's characteristic style to watch here (the camera put at a knee's height, the so called pillow shots, etc). The movie includes a famous scene with Komajuro and Sumiko fighting and arguing over a street where the rain is pouring. The performances are terrific, especially those of Nakamura and Kyo. Chishu Ryu, who was in dozens of Ozu's films, has a bit role here as the theater manager.
on 1 June 2004
Floating Weeds is a light hearted drama set in a small coastal town in the of south Japan, the story is based around a troop of travailing actors that travel from place to place playing traditional Japanese stories in the local theatres, if they fail to draw a large enough audience to the show it may mean the end of the road for the troop but the master Komajuro played by Ganjiro Nakamura is confident of their success, it has been 12 years since the troop was last in town and the master has more than one purpose in mind when he visits, on arrival he first calls to see an old flame and her son Kyushu, it is soon clear that Kyushu a young post office clerk has no idea that the visiting gentleman is not his uncle but really his father, Kyushu is not the only one who is unaware of this secret, Machiko Kyo plays Sumiko the Masters jealous mistress, when she finds out the masters secret she sets out to create trouble. In the background of all this the film focuses on the male members of the troop who are more interested in finding a woman and cheating each other to care much about the affairs of the Master, In this film Ozu tries to show us how the old must make way for the new and how we must adapt in order not to be left behind, this is a true Japanese classic and a must see for any Japanese film enthusiast.
on 10 November 2008
Ozu is a world class director with a formidable filmography to his name, and this is one of his best movies. If you asked me who he was like, I would have to say that the nearest comparison would be with Jean Renoir, in that he is a director who loves his flawed characters - all of them, including the rogues - and he therefore has a life-affirming kind of compassion. But his style is all his own: characters always filmed from a fixed camera three feet off the ground, the height of a seated Japanese person; no pan shots; exquisite use of colour; only the most sparing use of exteriors; allowing quite important events to take place offscreen (here a robbery where the troupe loses all its money); punctuation with superb still life shots which are both a breathing space and tell you something about what has been going on.
Like so many Ozu movies, it's about the relationship between the older and younger generation. The story starts simply: a ragged troupe of strolling players (the floating weeds of the title) arrives in a run-down little port to give some shows. They come full of hope and excitement. The supporting players are looking forward to finding girls; the leader of the troupe, Komajuro, is visiting his ex-mistress and his son Kiyoshi (who doesn't know Komajuro is his father) for the first time in 12 years. Over the first thirty minutes nothing much happens, except to establish the characters, but by the alchemy of great film-making we are hooked into caring about these people. Ozu tells his story at his own pace, in his own time, and we go with the flow. Gradually the story gets more sombre. The troupe does poor business - it is not very good; the leading lady, Sumiko, finds out about the ex, and fears losing Komajuro to a settled life and thus the end of the troupe, so she sets the younger actress Kayo to seduce the son. Far from seducing him, she falls in love. The rest of the drama concerns whether Komajuro will settle, will tell his son the truth, whether Kayo will be accepted, and how the troupe, stranded and broke, will get out of the town - or will they break up?
The main drama is punctuated by a kind of chorus of the three supporting actors, drinking and smoking and wondering how they will get out (the only girl they get is a jolly local prostitute with dreadful teeth). There is an awful lot of drinking and smoking in this movie, and it's not surprising that Ozu died on his 60th birthday of lung cancer.
Within this gentle movie, there is a surprising amount of pain. Komajuro and Aiko, the mistress (a lovely understated performance from Hitomi Nozoe), finally agree to tell Kiyoshi who his father is, they will reunite and be a family again. Except Kiyoshi explodes that he doesn't want a father and pushes Komajuro to the ground. When the troupe is splitting up (sorry, I've given it away), they try so hard to put a brave face on it, drinking - again! - and singing. Except the oldest member, who has a small grandson to support, quietly slips away and weeps silently in a corner. His grandson, who loves the theatre and has little idea what is going on, follows his grandfather. He stands watching him for a few moments, while the singing goes on offstage; then he drops the apple he is holding and howls. It breaks your heart.
I watched this movie with my partner last night and we spent two hours talking about it afterwards. There are so many gorgeous moments: the reconciliation between Sumiko and Komajuro, a long tentative business over lighting a cigarette; their earlier raging quarrel conducted at a distance separated by bars and pouring rain; the last shot of a train disappearing with just two red lights glowing on the tail truck.
Red is in almost every shot; red for passion, red for life. It is used in the same way Constable uses it in his paintings, to link a composition and give it depth, and to express emotions that the characters can't or won't reveal.
Ozu is seen as the most "Japanese" of Japanese directors and his movies were not shown in the West till after his death. But there is little here that is impenetrable to an Anglophone audience. The performance the troupe is putting on is a kind of debased Kabouki, but it's quite clear that they're pretty dreadful in any language. There's a fetching mixture of East and West in actresses dressed in full kimono and lacquered hair sitting up at a bar, smoking and ordering a shot of hooch. The only thing which has to be taken on trust is the truly outcast status of the troupe. Actors are dangerous bohemians in most cultures, but you have to take it on trust that they are much worse than that in Japanese culture in order to accept the extreme reluctance of Komajuro to tell the truth about Kiyoshi's paternity, or of Kayo to marry Kiyoshi. And accept it you will, because you believe in the characters.
Only one thing mars the film, which is the awful Western-style music, alternately syrupy and jolly in the nudging style of a Carry-On movie. I have no idea if this was what Ozu wanted or it was imposed by producers in an effort to make the movie more commercial. But you can't mind too much, and the movie and its characters will resonate with you for a long time afterwards.
It's not a particularly original plot, but in cinema it's never the story that matters, it's the way that you tell it.
on 14 September 2009
A group of Kabuki actors tours around Japan and arrives at a small town on the coast. Here, the director Komajuro wishes to contact again his past lover. By attempting to do so, his present lover interferes, being violently jealous. The result is disastrous for the family and the troupe. Erroneously denying his son to adhere to his own feelings and values which he identifies as to cheap - even though they are his own - Kamajuro realises that in the end he must acknowledge the instability of human emotions, their individual truth and force, the difference between youth and old age when faced when resolving problems. He learns to forgive and thus connects again to the possibilities of life.
An enchanting movie with gracefully formulated messages
on 11 February 2013
The high-definition work of the blu-ray has not done miracles, but the colors are improved and it is a pleasure to see the red of the flowers, the green of the plants, the blue of the sky in high-definition. The film is deeply moving, one of my favorites, a pure jewel.