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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Floating Weeds  



 

Floating Weeds

Reviewed by sieteocho

Japanese Title: Ukigusa
Director: Ozu Yasujiro
Writing Credits: Noda Kogo, Ozu Yasujiro
Cast: Nakamura Ganjiro, Kyo Machiko, Wakao Ayako, Kawaguchi Hiroshi
Genre: Drama
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Year Released: 1959
Runtime: 119 min
Rating ****½ (out of five stars)

Watched Floating Weeds, finally. (I watched the 1959 remake, not the 1930s silent original. I had watched the first 20 minutes of this from a videotape while in college and only finished it much later.)

I don’t know whether I got a kick because this was Ozu, or because watching Ozu reminded me of the carefree days in college when I was watching Tokyo Story (my first Ozu film). I still remember my favorite moment in Tokyo Story: first, a scene with two of the grandchildren playing on a field against the horizon. Then a shot of the grandmother saying, "what are you going to do when you grow up?" And then the same shot of the field, but with the children gone, as though to say, "it doesn’t matter, because you won’t live to see it". OK that probably sounded meaner than I intended. But it just goes to illustrate that Ozu has such a gentle way of putting across such stark truths as mortality.

In Floating Weeds, we get the same themes: families reacting to pressures that tear them apart, the fleeting nature of happiness,

WARNING: Spoilers

Why did the troupe leader have to go back on the road? It was supposed to be a happy ending. His son was supposed to be sabotaged, but it turned out that he found a new love, and there was a strong hint (she was recently orphaned) that it would be somebody for life. He could have retired, reunited with his ex-girlfriend, and lived out his days happily amongst a family he never had in the first place. It was all possible.

But there were three things that stood in his way: first of all he was extremely rash in criticizing the actress who seduced his son, and not realizing that they had a future as a couple. As it happened, the son actually ended up saying to him that his father was as good as dead, scuppering that possibility. Secondly it would have been hard for him anyway to assimilate into a family that he had left behind. Last of all, his acute self-image as a former kabuki actor, that of a lower caste, would make any such assimilation even more difficult.

Most humiliating of all, was how he had to go back on the road, back into the arms of his mistress, who had betrayed him. There was that quaint scene of his fumbling for the matches and obstinate refusal to have his cigarette lighted by him before eventually acquiescing to her persistence. It’s then that a more sympathetic view of her emerges, less the pernicious schemer, and more the jilted lover resorting to desperate measures to win back her love. For the guy, not an entirely bad deal, actually, considering that she’s got a younger, firmer body than the mother of his child.

Plus the knowing that his son still has a bright future and a pretty prospective wife.

No, the tragedy of the Ozu film is not the tragedy of the situation, but rather how events unfold which repeatedly expose the main character to humbling humiliations. The object of Ozu is not narration or plot, but portraiture. Of elucidation through portraiture. The son was supposed to elope and the actor was going to stay, but eventually the actor was the one running away. And the sad part was how they didn’t even try that hard to stop him because they knew the futility of it all.

Also, the film is very carefully composed. Watching it is a real pleasure. Compared to what passes for art film these days, it’s the difference between good cooking and bad cooking. Between shagging, say, Shu Qi and shagging somebody ugly. (I could give you an example but it would be extremely unkind.) Walking away from the TV set, you get this strange, lingering afterglow, as though you were dreamily smoking a cigarette after some fabulous doggie action.

[This review first appeared in sieteocho.]