Floating Weeds Review
A small travelling Kabuki theatre company arrives in a small southern Japanese costal town. The leader of the troupe Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura) takes the opportunity to secretly visit a former mistress, Oyashi (Haruko Sugimura) and their son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi). Komajuro has high hopes for the boy’s education and future career. As having a father as an itinerant actor wouldn’t be appropriate for these aims, the young man had been led to believe that the actor is his uncle. However, Komajuro’s current mistress, Sumiko (Machiko Kyô) finds out about his secret meetings, and out of jealousy threatens to lead the boy’s life astray.
It’s difficult to explain the attraction of a Yasujiro Ozu film to anyone who hasn’t seen one before – waist-level photography of characters, usually sitting or kneeling in a formal-looking position, theatrical settings and lots of talking. I imagine that Ozu would split opinion as much as the French director Eric Rohmer – the talky nature of the films, the everydayness of the situations and ordinariness of the characters are probably something you either like or dislike. Like Rohmer however, Ozu’s characters are suffused with all human characteristics - prone to love, jealousy, anger and compassion – and there is no-one better at depicting on the screen real people with complex personalities and human weaknesses coping with everyday dilemmas.
Floating Weeds, one of the director’s last films, is typically Ozu – a remake of his own 1934 silent film, The Story of Floating Weeds. It shares many of the characteristics of his masterpiece, Tokyo Story (1953), with the generational gap a theme – although in this film the son turns out to be all too like the father and prone to the charms of women. Also clearly evident are the beautiful, immaculate compositions, strong, clear and deliberate storytelling techniques and flawless acting. In every respect, Floating Weeds is a work of cinematic brilliance.
It is difficult to rate the picture here according to the standards set by modern DVDs, but on its own terms the picture quality of the 45 year old Floating Weeds stands up very well indeed. It’s a little bit soft and colours fluctuate slightly, but the tones are warm and strong and often simply stunning. Blacks are beautifully detailed, dark hair standing out from dark shadowy backgrounds and the overall effect is much better than one would reasonably expect. There are more than a few dust spots and larger marks, but no more than you would find acceptable on a film this old. This is not making excuses for the faults, which are certainly minor – for the main part, this does look terrific, doing justice to Ozu’s wonderful compositions. Rather more worrying is the slightly stretched look of frame, with characters looking slightly elongated.
There are lots of crackles and pops throughout the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, but nothing that causes any real problems. The sound has a fair dynamic range, only distorting at higher levels, which in a film like this isn’t too often.
The only extra feature on the Artificial Eye DVD is a filmography for Yasujiro Ozu.
Warm and heartfelt, sincere and truthful – as one of Ozu’s best films, Floating Weeds presents a deep, yet subtle insight into human emotion and behaviour and will leave you with a warm glow of recognition as well as admiration for the director’s mastery of presenting his characters and their story. A fine film on a fine looking DVD.