by Elaine Perrone
Long revered in his own country, master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu was discovered outside Japan only shortly before his death in 1963. Now acclaimed the world over, Ozu is cited as a major inspiration to such disparate filmmakers as Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismäki, and Abbas Kiarostami. Of the fifty-four films that Ozu made between 1927 and 1962, only thirty-eight have survived. Even fewer of those are available on home video, although Criterion is working on a restoration of the extant Ozu catalogue, which is not expected to be completed for at least another six years. Fortunately for film lovers, Ozu’s lyrical and colorful Floating Weeds is available in a Criterion set, paired with his original 1934 silent film from which it was remade, A Story of Floating Weeds.A recurring theme in Ozu’s films is domestic discord – in particular, the often uneasy relationships between parents and children. Floating Weeds is no exception, but here the definition of family is extended to include not just a family related by blood, but also a rather dysfunctional family of rag-tag traveling Kabuki players, the “floating weeds” of the title.
"Floating to heaven."
The traveling company of players is led by Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), an affable vagabond. When the group arrives at the fishing village in which they have been booked to perform, Komajuro reconnects with his old lover Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura), although his current mistress Sumiko (Machiko Kyô) is also a performer with the troupe. Oyoshi and Komajuro have a son together, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), a young man who has been brought up to believe that Komajuro is his uncle. When Sumiko finds out about Oyoshi and her son, she flies into a jealous rage and bribes her friend Kayo (Ayako Wakao), another member of the Kabuki troupe, into seducing Kiyoshi, with the idea of breaking his heart and infuriating Komajuro, who regards his profession – and particularly the women in it – as not being worthy of respect and, most especially, not worthy of his son. Instead, the two fall in love, propelling both families into turmoil.
Ozu’s directorial techniques are deceptively simple. He eschews close-ups, filming in long takes, at medium distance. His camera is positioned low, at about the eye-level of someone sitting on a tatami mat. He often uses rain to accentuate conflict. Instead of dissolves or fades, pauses between scenes come in the form of sublime landscape shots, snippets of village life, or lovely still-life tableaus. Location changes are signalled by scenes filmed in portals, with people crossing in the background. Ozu's composition is deft, and his respect for his subjects obvious.In observance of the 100th anniversary of Ozu’s birth (12 December 1903), several cities – New York, Toronto, and Seattle, among them – have mounted retrospectives of his work. If you have any chance at all, don't miss the rare opportunity to avail yourself of this cinematic treasure trove, of which Wim Wenders declares, "If there was still such things as sacred objects in our century, then for me that would have to be the work of the Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu." If not, by all means introduce yourself to Ozu's quietly brilliant work through such readily available gems as Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds, secure in the knowledge that Criterion has your back.
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originally posted: 02/21/05 12:32:45