|'the boiling pot of a location... makes the emotions more piquant, the Drama more centred, the focus tighter. We are forced down narrow streets, into porches where the rain still stifles'|
Roger Ebert talks of how Yasujirô Ozu's Floating Weeds is 'so atmospheric - so evocative of a quiet fishing village during a hot and muggy summer - that it envelops me'. As with his best work, Ebert here hits straight at the heart of what makes Ozu's work so special.
Floating Weeds is a small, quiet, drama, focusing on few players doing very little besides living their regular lives, dealing with past and present troubles and strife. That this happens in a boiling pot of a location, the small village Ebert describes, somehow makes the emotions more piquant, the Drama more centred, the focus tighter. The production design by Tomoo Shimogawara forces us down narrow streets, into porches where the rain still stifles and derelict harbours where the hot smell of dirty water lingers. Ozu's camera, helmed by cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, follows the hot smell of the town everywhere, completely committed to the value the location has to the overall story.
The drama plays out like something from classic French cinema - but where there should be red wine, here there is copious amounts of sake, always served warm - crossed with the traditions of Shakespearean tragedy. Master Arashi (Ganjirô Nakamura) enters the town with his theatre troupe and visits the home of his former love (Haruko Sugimura), where his child (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) lives, believing Arashi to be his uncle. Suspicious and uncertain, his current mistress (Machiko Kyō) plots with the beautiful Kayo (Ayako Wakao) to turn the tables.
At times the film comes close to tipping more into farce, and perhaps, given the fairly gentle nature of the finale, that is where it belongs, but Ozu seems keen to retain the atmosphere of tragedy and is at pains to give hints that that is where these characters are heading. Perhaps, taking into account the final scene between Arashi and Sumiko (Kyō), that is indeed where the characters find themselves, floating again towards uncertain, perhaps unwholesome, pursuits.
|'has an underlying misogyny which seems to suggest that all men act as honourably as possible, given the circumstances, whereas women... are weak and needy'|
The population of dubiously-motivated side players lend credence to the natural assumption that the 'weeds' of the title are ourselves, aimlessly meandering around rivers of internal and external chaos. Kichinosuke (Kôji Mitsui), one of the immoral troupe of actors who seems to spend all of his time in the geisha house, offers a hint at redemption late on, before Ozu usurps him and returns us to the normality of watching the flawed mass of humanity go about their mistakes. 'Life is an unknown course, the only constant is change', says a character at one point. That and the mistakes of our present and past, here to collect their recompense.
Ozu eventually boils the question down to whether Kiyoshi (Kawaguchi) can break the cycle, although, noticeably, the director seems to include no such optimistic hint for the film's other young presence, Kayo. This hits at the heart of one of Floating Weeds' flaws, an underlying misogyny which seems to suggest that all men (save perhaps Kichinosuke) act as honourably as possible, given the circumstances, whereas women who have made mistakes are weak and needy (displayed by Kayo's pathetic conclusion), labelled by turn 'whore', 'bitch' or 'slut'.
That and a far too long runtime (there's nothing here that couldn't be covered in ninety-minutes) hold Floating Weeds back from classic status, yet it retains the compulsion of a much watch, particularly for any film-makers operating on a low budget, keen to see what can be achieved with merely a high-level understanding of location and the foibles of humanity.
Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.
Floating Weeds is released in the UK on Monday 3rd December 2012