09:03 - 5th June 2013, by Calum Waddell

Floating Weeds

Eureka's Masters of Cinema label returns with yet another helping of high-brow significance. This time, it is the legendary Japanese auteur Yasujirō Ozu obtaining the HD 'bells and whistles' treatment. The film in question is Floating Weeds, the arthouse maestro's 1959 remake of an early, and relatively obscure, silent effort (A Story of Floating Weeds). Ozu will probably be best known to NEO readers for Tokyo Story (1953), a feature which often crops up in those dastardly, and notoriously unreliable, 'best films of all time' lists - joining such accepted honoraries as Citizen Kane, Seven Samurai and Vertigo.

Therefore, this review may be seen as akin to blasphemy by some, but, to be blatantly honest, yours truly has never been all that taken by Ozu...

Now, were these words to be written in an issue of Sight and Sound, one suspects that a P-45 would almost instantaneously be issued, but rocking the establishment has long been part and parcel of NEO, so let's begin talking about Floating Weeds. First of all, this is one of Ozu's most aesthetically compelling outings. Certainly, the director - unlike such contemporaries as Kurosawa or Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill) - is someone who rarely relied on extravagant set pieces or eye-bleeding examples of visual depth and finesse to entertain his audience. Instead, Ozu was a man who always seemed most relaxed when creating slow-moving dramas awash with social commentary and a contemporary attitude towards the breakdown of the family unit and the pressures of the modern day. Creating such studied mediations on Japanese youth, and life and love, as Late Spring (1949) and the aforementioned Tokyo Story in the troubled post-war period, Ozu was eventually hailed as one of cinema's foremost social commentators (his films lacked distribution worldwide until, perversely, after he passed away in 1963).

The importance of establishing this is to give some context to Floating Weeds - a late-era effort from the filmmaker which feels less concerned with modernity, despite its contemporaneous setting, than it does with spinning a tangled story of lost liaisons and lustful frustration. Although thematically not altogether too divergent from the likes of Tokyo Story, this is arguably a less epic production, and consequently even more relaxed and 'gentle' than the man's most famous achievements.

Floating Weeds introduces us to a travelling theatre troupe who, amidst crude jokes and playful bickering, arrive at a quiet seaside town. They are led by an aging thespian called Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), whose demands and attempts to hold the group together with an ever-growing ego are proving subtly destructive. Yet, Komajuro is about to find himself in a situation he could never have prepared for. He comes into contact with the female owner of a sake bar who, many years past, he had a brief fling with. She consequently became pregnant with his son (played by Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who is now a dashing a young man, ambitious and hopeful of a university placement, and, more importantly, is blissfully unaware that his real father is within his midst. This leads Komajuro to butt heads with his current mistress (also the leading actress of his troupe), who fears losing him to someone else. However, the complex situation also gives the travelling actor a chance to bond with his child - who, believing this strange visitor to be his uncle, takes him out on a fishing trip.

From here, an awkward situation becomes even more difficult, and the audience, given the dramatic knowledge they possess, is invited to anticipate the somewhat inevitable unraveling of Komajuro's real identity. In this sense, Floating Weeds is a more predictable experience than many of Ozu's other films, although its conclusion (without giving anything away) still shocks to this day - far from the 'feel good' warmth of Hollywood and altogether more cynical, if not entirely pessimistic, of human relationships. Ozu's attention to character, and the acting performances as a whole, are faultless here - with even minor personalities being given a little shine which makes them dazzle on the screen. As mentioned, this is a stunning looking film - even if the director's usual visual understatement is consistently enforced.

However, all of these years later, Ozu remains a director who is destined to polarise modern audiences, and, it should be affirmed, Floating Weeds is a painfully slow film when it comes to unravelling its story. Famous for rarely moving his camera - Ozu specialises in capturing dialogue in static shot after static shot, and, even when conversations are broken up by edits, the camera remains the observer of many long and often allegorical chats. Consequently, this is a piece of cinema ideal for the film student, or those curious about Ozu's reputation as one of Japanese cinema's most beloved geniuses, but it is not necessarily suited to anyone wanting to sit down for two hours of instantly involving entertainment.

Thus, Floating Weeds is a film that demands something very important of its viewer: patience. The success of this epic drama will doubtlessly depend on that very virtue. As concluded at the start of the review, Ozu is a director that is feted alongside Hitchcock, Kurosawa and Welles by many. For this critic, such an honour is pushing it - but if you are curious, and not expectant of a rollercoaster pace, then Floating Weeds is as good a place as any to start for this fascinating, but testing, filmmaker...

One has to respect the context and ambitions of Floating Weeds, but Ozu is a director who some modern viewers may have a hard time embracing.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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