Friday, December 23, 2011

#494. Floating Weeds (1959)

Directed By: Yasujirô Ozu

Starring: Ganjiro Nakamura, Machiko Kyô, Haruko Sugimura

Trivia:  Critic Roger Ebert has listed this as one of his 10 favorite films

The later films of Yasujiro Ozu offer a glimpse into the customs and traditions of post-war Japan, and his 1959 classic Floating Weeds is one of his finest. 

Floating Weeds follows a troupe of traveling actors who, under the leadership of longtime performer Kimajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), have just arrived at a quiet fishing village to stage their next performance. As members of his troupe post notices around town, advertising the upcoming show, Kimajuro pays a visit to Oyoshi (Haruka Sugimura), a former love who owns a sake bar. 

Years earlier, Oyoshi bore Kimajuro's child, a now-teenage son named Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi). Fearful that the truth will lead to unnecessary heartache, Kimajiro has decided Kiyoshi must never know he's his father. This secret is threatened, however, when Kimajuro’s current lover, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), a fellow performer, learns of the boy’s existence and, in a fit of jealousy, attempts to expose the truth to the unsuspecting Kiyoshi. 

Floating Weeds takes the time to delve into the lives and personalities of several characters, including members of the acting troupe and even a handful of villagers. Yet it is the film’s one-on-one exchanges, most of which involve the proud Kimajuro, that are it’s most memorable scenes. When Sumiko first confronts Kimajiro about Kiyoshi, it leads to an outdoor argument between the two, with Kimajiro standing on one side of an empty street and Sumiko on the other. The two toss insults and accusations back and forth, taking no notice of the driving rain that is pounding the road between them. Visually, a scene such as this, set in a vacant neighborhood in the middle of a rainstorm, offered a fair number of possibilities for Ozu to explore. But Sumiko and Kimajiro carry this sequence by themselves. Their words, their explosive emotions standing above all else. 

And this was Ozu’s style; like a good many of his movies, Floating Weeds is told in a very straightforward manner. The camera rarely moves from a still position, and the actors, when speaking, occasionally look directly at the audience. Even the troupe's colorful stage shows are presented with little pomp or ceremony. For Ozu, the camera was a means to an end, a device to capture conversations, and two characters with something interesting to say to one another was all the "action" he would ever require.


tjpieraccini said...

What a great last sentence for that review - very nearly my own filmmaking creed, along with Bergman's assertion of the primacy of the human face in cinema. I haven't seen Floating Weeds. I really should!

David said...

I watched this movie for the first time a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. Within the last year I've really come to appreciate the Japanese cinema of the 50's and 60's. It sounds strange and kinda corny but when I watch the films from that time and place I feel a sort of inner peace. I don't know if it's the measured pacing or the often beautiful sets or the escapism afforded by such distance (both in miles and years) but there's something wondrously tranquil about these movies no matter what the genre or plot.

Nobuo Nakagawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Kimiyoshi Yasuda and Hiroshi Teshigahara are other directors from this period whose films I've enjoyed.

- David