Tuesday, April 23, 2013

2013 Blind Spot Series: Floating Weeds

In Memory of Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu, Floating Weeds is a remake of Ozu’s 1934 silent film A Story of Floating Weeds that explores an aging actor who arrives in a small town to visit his former mistress and his illegitimate son. Written by Ozu and Kogo Noda, the film is a simple story about a man trying to do right to the son he barely knew while his current lover becomes jealous about the other life that he has. Starring Ganjiro Nakamura, Machiko Kyo, Ayako Wakao, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, and Haruko Sugimura. Floating Weeds is a tremendous film from Yasujiro Ozu.

In this remake of Yasujiro Ozu’s 1934 silent film as it is presented in color and with sound, the story remains the same though Ozu and co-screenwriter Kogo Noda do make a few changes to update the story a bit. Still, it is about an aging actor of a traveling acting troupe who arrives at a small town to visit a former lover and his illegitimate son who only knows the man as his uncle. The actor’s time towards the son he barely knows causes jealousy in his current lover who hires a young actress to seduce the man’s son only for things to get complicated. It’s all part of Ozu’s exploration to see a man trying to reconnect with the family he abandoned while the current family he has in his acting troupe are starting to get lost without him.

Even as the script allows Ozu and Noda to take more time to not just explore the other actors of the troupe but also the prominent characters that are embroiled in a world full of secrets. While Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura) and Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) maintain the secret about who Komajuro really is just to protect their son Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) from the shame of having a poor actor as a father. For Komajaru’s mistress Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), the news about Komajuro’s other life is a shock for her as she is jealous thinking she’s the most important thing he has. By goading the younger actress Kayo (Ayako Wakao) to seduce Kiyoshi, she would hope she would get Komajuro back but things not only get complicated as well as creating more trouble for Komajuro’s troupe that is already going through financial trouble and neglect from the manager that was supposed to help them.

The direction of Ozu is very understated and simplistic in terms of the compositions that he creates as well as the drama that is played out. In that style where he never moves the camera nor utilizes any close-ups, Ozu uses a lot of medium and wide shots in a full-frame setting to capture a world that is intimate but also full of life. Notably as Ozu maintains a point of view where it’s seen by the audience whether it’s a stage presentation from the acting troupe or some of the more intimate moments between the many characters in the film. Shot on a low-tripod stance, Ozu manages to create a lot of coverage in his framing while knowing where to position the camera to capture these little simple moments that cay say a lot by doing so little. It’s part of Ozu’s unique approach to minimalist filmmaking while letting the drama play out naturally though keeping the actors in certain places to be in the frame. Overall, Ozu creates a very mesmerizing and exquisite film about family, regrets, and the desire for redemption.

Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa does amazing work with the film‘s lush and colorful cinematography from the exteriors set in a small seaside town with its gorgeous colors to the some of the film‘s interiors including the stage scenes that includes some wonderful lighting by Sachio Ito to help enhance the film‘s beauty. Editor Toyo Suzuki does nice work with the film‘s editing where it maintains this slow yet methodical pace while doing a few rhythmic cuts to play out some of the drama. Production designer Hideo Matsuyama and art director Tomoo Shimogawara do great work with the set pieces from the bar that Sumiko runs to the stage house the actors stay in.

Sound recorder Takeo Suda does terrific work with the sound from the intimacy that goes on in the stage scenes to the more broader moments for the exterior scenes including the beaches and streets. The film’s music by Kojun Saito is brilliant as it features an array of themes that are just wonderful to listen to with its mixture of orchestral textures and folk music to play up the drama and some of the film’s light-hearted moments.

The film’s cast is excellent as it features a noteworthy ensemble that is filled with some memorable small performances from Chishu Ryu as a theater owner, Hitomi Nozoe as a girl working at a barbershop, Mantaro Urabe as an elder actor of the troupe, Mutsuko Sakura as a waitress, and as the trio of young actors looking for something to do in the town, Haruo Tanaka, Yosuke Irie, and Hikaru Hoshi. Another small performance that should be noted is from Koji Mitsui as one of the older actors of the troupe as he played the son in the 1934 silent film A Story of Floating Weeds. Ayako Wakao is wonderful as the young actress Kayo who is asked by Sumiko to seduce Kiyoshi only for things to become complicated as she has no idea what to do. Haruko Sugimara is terrific as Kiyoshi’s mother who is carrying Komajuro’s secret to protect everyone while dealing with the chaos that is happening around her.

Hiroshi Kawaguchi is amazing as Kiyoshi as a young postal clerk with an ambition to go to college as he is suddenly wooed by a young woman unsure about the path he’s taking as well as deal with the man he’s called his uncle. Machiko Kyo is remarkable as Sumiko as a woman who is envious of the other life Komajuro has where she schemes to ruin it only for things to get even worse as Kyo brings an element of heartbreak and anger to her role. Finally, there’s Ganjiro Nakamura in a brilliant performance as Komajuro as a man who is hoping to succeed as an actor to make his son proud while dealing with all of the chaos of maintaining his secret and not bring shame to his son as it’s a really mesmerizing performance to watch.

Floating Weeds is a magnificent film from Yasujiro Ozu. Armed with a great ensemble cast, beautiful cinematography, and a fantastic score, the film is definitely one of Ozu’s greatest triumphs. It’s also one of the most compelling pieces of cinema that explores the idea of family and the desire to find redemption in the wake of shame. In the end, Floating Weeds is an incredible film from Yasujiro Ozu.

Yasujiro Ozu Films: (Sword of Penitence) - (Days of Youth) - Tokyo Chorus - I Was Born, But… - (Dragnet Girl) - Passing Fancy - (A Mother Should Be Loved) - A Story of Floating Weeds - (An Inn in Tokyo) - (The Only Son) - (What Did the Lady Forget?) - (Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family) - (There Was a Father) - Record of a Tenement Gentleman - (A Hen in the Wind) - Late Spring - Early Summer - (The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice) - Tokyo Story - Early Spring - Tokyo Twilight - (Equinox Flower) - Good Morning - Late Autumn - The End of Summer - An Autumn Afternoon

© thevoid99 2013

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