Yasujirō Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959), a remake of the director’s 1935 silent short A Story of Floating Weeds, was given a magnificent colour reworking (emphasised with this meticulous Blu-ray transfer) and allowed to flourish with its new extended 119-minute runtime. Whilst never heralded as one of Ozu’s strongest features (he did make 54 films during his long career though), Floating Weeds perfectly encapsulates his distinctive style and ability to turn the mundane into something beautiful. A troupe of travelling actors and performers arrive at a small seaport town to set up their show.
Komajuro Arashi (Ganjiro Nakamura), the eldest of the group, takes this coincidental opportunity to visit an old lover Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) and their son Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi). Due to the immoral act which brought him into this world Kiyoshi is unaware that Komajuro is his real father. However, the troupe’s leading actress and Komajuro’s mistress Sumiko (Machiko Kyo) becomes jealous of this rehabilitated family and her master’s attempts to make up for lost time, deciding to humiliate him by using another young actress to seduce his illegitimate son and in turn shrouding him in disgrace and dishonour.
Floating Weeds’ leisurely pace is handled in a serenely confident manner never hurried with each shot held for just long enough for the viewer to truly absorb its importance. Indeed, as with all of Ozu’s films, nothing is seen as unimportant, with each carefully fashioned frame containing a wealth of fascinating characters, captured by an conscientious static camera which never panders to flashy pans or tracking shots, with each scene like a photograph in a family picture album, lovingly captured and rife with memories and regrets.
Issues of fate and existence are revisited by Ozu, using the performance medium of acting to illustrate how rigid and preordained our lives can be by social constraints. Poetically deconstructing life into a series of lyrical stanzas that entwine to create a subtly effecting whole, Ozu captures the natural rhythm of everyday life in a strangely beguiling manner. The acclaimed director’s own distinguishably elegant and melancholic approach is clearly visible in this strangely meditative study of life neatly scattered with brief moments of comic asides and gently simmering buoyancy lying beneath its languid exterior.
Often criticised by those with the belief that his films all dealing with the same subject matter, Floating Weeds isn’t a film to win over those who’ve failed to appreciate Ozu’s work on anything other than an academic level, however as the old adage goes, ‘Stick to what you’ – and there’s no denying that Ozu is the master of these elegant and intimate tales of everyday life, which, in this age of artificial drama and outlandish fantasy acts as a refreshing palette cleaners of humanist cinema.