Thursday, April 21, 2011


(Hey, it was 4-20, why not see a movie with the word 'Weed' in the title?  ... not quite what one might be expecting, and definitely NOT a stoner movie, but... whatever)

While I wish I could do describing and admiring Floating Weeds justice, I know I'd be far from being able to write about it with such love and admiration and spot-on clarity that Roger Ebert had with his review.  But, I can try, anyway.  This is a film, gorgeous in compositions (it's Ozu though so 'duh') and wonderful in its pacing, that much like Late Spring is filled with sadness but leveled by a contemplation of what comes with people's decisions in life and where it takes them.  In this story it's about an acting troupe that descends on a small fishing village and the actor Komajuro (the amiable except when he isn't older man with a past played by Ganjiro Nakamura) reconnects with a woman who mothered his child, and the child now full grown thinks he's his uncle. But Komajuro has a new flame in the acting troupe who gets jealous of his affections for his son (who is not too subtle for affection for him), so she, Sumiko, comes up with a scheme to get another of the girls to seduce his son Kiyoshi.

Now, most of what I just typed you could find on IMDb's plot synopsis.  What about the film itself?  Well, how much more can be said about Ozu in general that hasn't been said, and this film being a quintessential work in a body of films that go from one to the next with the same approach visually - people talking to each other but in breaking the 180 degree rule by having them speak to the camera with very little change in eyeline, the ground-level camera almost like a baby viewing things or a little animal, and no panning or moving the camera (for Ozu it might as well be still photography but with some animated actors - and minor changes in theme. 

Or a more practical question: where are his eyeballs??
Floating Weeds' pleasures are in seeing the little moments of comedy spike out, like a bit of "eww gross girl" comedy with one local resident with bad teeth who tries to hit on one of the actors, or just some of the dialog that goes on with the troupe that feels real and intimate.  And Ozu doesn't shy away from moments that are just flat-out adorable (hey, he's Japanese after all) like when the little kid is performing on stage and statching at all of the sushi bits.  And the supporting characters all have scenes and moments where they get to breathe as real characters, such as the three male actors who sit around at night wondering what to do with their time before the troupe eventually, possibly, won't go together again (I can't really repeat the dialog here, it'd rob the scene of its amusement and pathos).

Yet there's also a pleasure to be had with the dramatic part of the story too.  The story didn't quite grab me, though I was certainly never bored, until about the halfway point; up until then the father coming to see his boy again after so long and there being that connection was pleasant and moving, but nothing so special as to make me amazed.  It wasn't until the element with the girls in the troupe, specifically that of Machiko Kyo's character Sumiko came in, that the film picked up dramatic steam.  And even then Ozu wouldn't kick things too far into the melodramatic soap-opera turns.  That's something that is so wonderful about him, and it's something in his other masterpieces Tokyo Story and 'Spring': he cares about all his characters, especially the screwed-up girls who get no respect from their 'Master' Komajuro, to cheapen things.  Or perhaps it's a Japanese-restraint kind of thing; what lies underneath is so raw and passionate that is just has to burst out sooner or later.

Sumiko's plan ultimately backfires with the stalwart and pissed-off Komajuro (and Ozu is so good with this that he lets his actor make it so electrified, which Nakamura is more than aptn to do), and we see one of the high points of dramatic tension come out in a scene between Komajuro and Sumiko in an outdoor scene in the rain.  Why are they apart arguing like they are?  Later Komajuro gets mad at the girls, both Sumiko and the younger Kayo, but those scenes he's closer to them and lets them have it.  But this time they're arguing back and forth (lots of "whores" and "bitch" goes out, something unexpected for me), and the rain keeps pouring as they're under an awning.  And Ozu only cuts maybe once or twice in the scene, mostly it's just a medium master shot of the girl on one side and the older male master on the other.  Maybe it's a suggestion of nature being a much stronger force than they can try and combat.  Or they just don't want to get wet.  Either way, it's the kind of scene I want to revisit just for the sake of studying why it's choreographed that way, and what psychological effect it has.

"Do you really want to hurt me?" "Believe me if it wasn't so soggy I would!"
One of the really masterful touches in the film is how Ozu illustrates this place that they're at, this muggy seaside village where most of the time it's wet or people are sweating, and the film even begins with someone saying "It's hot, it's going to get hotter" as if it'll go into a Do the Right Thing storyline.  And oddly enough at first I thought the film would take on the quality of being on vacation - like the guy who throws around fliers for people to come out to the show and makes a big number of just handing out fliers, something sweet and out of the ordinary - though later it takes a different turn that I could have thought.  Ultimately what happens at the end, what decisions the father makes with this family and messed up situation he's made of things, is fascinating and sad, but what I loved was how there's a foundation for everything that's happened and that this dramatic upheaval comes down to something as contemplative as the shots of what's outside: the flowers, thee statue by the ocean, the buildings in perfect synchronicity.

You probably might need to be in a certain open frame of mind for a movie like Floating Weeds; those who come to it and a few minutes in and say "it's too slow" should shut it off and be done with it, cause it won't get particularly "faster".  It's a filmmaker who wants to absorb the audience into a frame of mind to take in a drama that is hard and brutal, but is told with an elegance that makes you ponder the world and the people in it.  It may have a few little moments that don't add much to the main story, but it's hard to complain when so much of the film - and shot in color that makes everything vibrant but only so much that we understand what color can do, the bright primary ones and the more faded blacks and browns, the contrast so brilliant here especially from a director mostly in black and white his whole career - is so well done.  It's tender, tragic, with a sliver of hope near the end but so bitter that its sweetness if hard to see as that train pulls away into the night. 

Or, to put it another way, it's a film about putting on a "show", of life that is, and its a minor masterpiece in form. 

No comments:

Post a Comment