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 are a window into the world of Post-War Japan, revealing in great detail that society's customs and traditions, and his 1959 classic, Floating Weeds, is one of the finest of the bunch. 

Floating Weeds tells the story of a traveling troupe of actors who, under the leadership of longtime performer Kimajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), have just arrived at a quiet fishing village, where they will stage their next performance. As members of his troupe are posting notices around town, advertising the upcoming show, Kimajuro pays a visit to Oyoshi (Haruka Sugimura), a former love who now 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 his son must never know he's the father. This secret is threatened, however, when Kimajuro’s current lover, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), a fellow performer, learns of the boy’s existence, and jealously seeks to expose the truth to the unsuspecting Kiyoshi. 

Floating Weeds takes the time to delve into the lives and personalities of a fair number of characters, including several members of the acting troupe and even a handful of villagers. Yet it’s the film’s one-on-one exchanges, most of which involve the proud Kimajuro, that stand out as it’s most memorable moments. When Sumiko first confronts Kimajiro after learning of the existence of his son, 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 at one another, taking no notice of the driving rain pounding the road between them. A scene such as this, set in a vacant street in the middle of a rainstorm, offered a fair number of visual possibilities for Ozu to explore. But Sumiko and Kimajiro carry this sequence by themselves, their words, their explosive emotions, standing above all else that's going on around them. 

As was Ozu’s style, Floating Weeds is a very straightforward film. The camera rarely moves from a still position, and the actors, when speaking, occasionally look directly at the audience, placing us at the point of view of the person they're addressing. Even the troupe's colorful stage shows are presented with little pomp or fanfare. For Ozu, the camera was simply a means by which he could 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