Floating Weeds must be studied to be fully appreciated. Very little is handed to us by Yasujiro Ozu. It is up to us to unravel for ourselves many of the implied meanings within the film, and it takes work on our part to understand who the characters are in relation to each other. But although effort is required of us, what we get is an effective family drama that creeps up on you.
- Director: Yasujiro Ozu
- Writer: Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda
- Cast: Ganjiro Nakamura, Machiko Kyo, Ayako Wakao, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Haruko Sugimura
An aging man, Komajuro Arashi (Ganjiro Nakamura), returns to his hometown with his girlfriend, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), as part of a visiting acting troupe. During his stay, he reconnects with an old girlfriend with whom he has a son. When Sumiko finds out about Arashi’s past, confrontations take place, bitter resentments are expressed and a reconciliation of the past, present and future is attempted.
Floating Weeds forces you to think of film as a work of art. It is a reminder that not all films can be assessed with the same set of tools, as Ozu is mainly interested in composition, even if it comes at the expense of the plot or the continuity of the shots. During the first 30 minutes, a sense of frustration comes from not being able to clearly identify the plot or the main characters. We’re introduced to several characters and only eventually do we come to understand that Komajuro Arashi (Ganjiro Nakamura) is the central character. In an early scene, for example, Arashi meets with Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura), and the conversation seems casual, only to later discover that they have a deeply bonded past.
But this is all intentional, and I’ve now learned that Ozu was interested in telling stories with a camera that merely regards people from scene to scene, as opposed to forcing some perspective on us. In doing so, Ozu allows the plot to emerge subtlety as the film progresses. There is something magical in the moment where things click and you realize what is at stake for each of the main characters. This magic is mostly the result of Ozu’s own faith in his own vision. He never wanted actors to act so much as just represent certain details, often leaving the actors doubtful if their performance would lend itself to any kind of emotional impact. By being consistently faithful to Ozu’s direction, each performance builds up the emotional details it needs to provide the latter half of the film with weight.
Unlike more conventional films where clear story arcs can be identified, Floating Weeds provides us with a series of incidents that are all given their own time and space to reveal information that eventually pays off. But although each shot is intricately composed and meant to stand on its own as an image with aesthetic value, there is always a risk that any given scene may run too long to reach its point. Floating Weeds suffers a bit from this, but perhaps less so as the film progresses and as its purpose becomes more apparent. There is much to say about the consistency of style within Ozu’s film, with several motifs related to composition running from scene to scene. But this wears our patience a bit for long enough that although there is a payoff, one does wonder if the payoff may have been achieved more effectively.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
My appreciation for Ozu is one that will require more of his films. But for now, I appreciate my introduction to him. One of the appealing things about Ozu, as you mention, is that his films delve into themes that reflect the things we care about the most: Parents and children, marriage or a life lived alone, illness and death, and taking care of one another. By catching of glimpse of his body of work through Floating Weeds, I do find his pursuit in film to be noble. I can’t wait to see Tokyo Story. I agree with your assessment that Ozu loves his characters too much to crank up the drama into artificial highs and lows, and I am curious to see how this film will grow as I re-watch it in the future.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like Floating Weeds? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Sunrise
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds this week, he now has 298 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.