(Japanese, 1959, 119 minutes, color, 16mm)
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
FLOATING WEEDS was one of Ozu's last films. Here, his already abstract style becomes even more distant and objective, as if in his old age, Ozu was less concerned with the story logic and continuity than he was with the essential truth of the moment on the screen. His shots are languorous and long, and his care at setting up visual relationships between characters amounts to the painstaking. He favored a trademark "tatami shot," in which families at dinner were shown in a steady long take from a low angle, creating an intimacy between the viewer and the world of the film. His long shots of lighthouses and seascapes are elegant constructions in themselves, the cinematic equivalent of Hiroshige's most affecting compositions. Ozu's defiantly subtle style seems somehow braver today, in an age of `action' films larded with cliches, one-liners, and static characters. Ozu was not afraid to call upon his audiences to contemplate a meticulous landscape of human emotion.
The film was a remake of his 1934 silent film THE STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS. Much had changed for Ozu in the intervening 25 years. The Japanese film, which some called complicit in the terrible Pacific War with a cycle of "national policy films," had in the postwar years become perhaps the greatest humanist cinema of the 20th century. Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON and THE SEVEN SAMURAI, Kenji Mizoguchi's UGETSO and SANSHO THE BAILIFF, Kon Ichikawa's THE BURMESE HARP, and Ozu's own TOKYO STORY had made the Japanese film a remarkable voice for reflection and tolerance in stories told through a collection of visual styles that remain extraordinarily compelling after 50 years. FLOATING WEEDS' cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa, was one of the masters of his age, having already signed UGETSU and RASHOMON. Miyagawa was the perfect complement for Ozu, saturating the images with deep color, endowing even the most prosaic moments with drama.
FLOATING WEEDS is the story of a troupe of traveling Kabuki players who straggle into a coastal village. As they go about drumming up an audience, one of them, "Komajuro" (Ganjiro Nakamura) goes off on his own. He has a private affair to settle. Many years before, he had fathered a son with a woman who now runs a restaurant in the small town. It is time, at last, for a rapprochement between mother, father, and son. But when "Sumiko" (Machiko Kyo), Komajuro's consort and the troupe's star, discovers the relationship, she explodes. As in many of Ozu's films, personal rage threatens to blow apart the carefully ordered world of family, neighborhood, and town. Agitation and anger wash like a storm tide over the placid town, threatening the seemingly eminent destruction of both of Komajuro's "families," the kabuki troupe and his newfound nuclear family. Ozu and screenwriter Kogo Noda make the conflict within Komajuro, and between his two very different worlds, searing and tragic. Not until the film's touching last sequence does Komajuro start to find a kind of peace.
The Japanese nation is now prosperous and thriving, fully recovered from war's physical and psychological devastation. And if the Japanese cinema has never regained the heights of the immediate postwar years, perhaps it is because directors like Ozu taught their audiences lessons about loss and reconciliation that have not had to be repeated.
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.