Floating Weeds (Ukigusa) Reviews
So yeah, visually this is a great movie, masterpiece even. The viewing angles change from sweeping scenery shots to extreme close-ups where the characters stare right into the camera, which at some points creates a feeling of uneasiness, but that works for the movie's favour. Plus, all the colours, all the traditional Japanese clothing, all the over-the-top facial expression on Komajuro's (Ganjiro Nakamura) face, they all come together to form a movie that's definitely nice to look at.
Unfortunately the story itself is a bit boring. It's not that bad, not really, but I just couldn't get all that much into it. A group comes to town, the meet some people, some secrets are revealed, there's drama, there's hurt feelings. It's all very basic, and while the actors do manage to get into their roles and give good performances, I was left expecting just a bit more. A new twist, especially brilliant speech, something touching, but nope... nothing.
So yeah, it's not a bad film. It's actually rather good, great even for those that will appreciate it for its visual style and simple, yet classic story. The latter just wasn't my cup of tea in this case, unfortunately.
It follows an acting troupe who is visiting a small town where the group leader has an ex-lover as well as their son who know him as an Uncle. The story is interesting, and is directed in Ozu's usual style of static shots with a lot of close-ups. A lot of people praise him for this style, which is the antithesis to his counter-part Akira Kurosawa who favours a lot of action and moving shots. For me, the style didn't work on this one. The film has a very slow pace and I found it hard to get into.
I can see why a lot of people hold it in such high regard, but it just didn't fully work for me, but I may give it another try in the future. This one is for film buffs and lovers of Japanese cinema!
Note: Though this irrelevant to the review, notice how "Tokyo Story" has 37 reviews and no consensus while "Floating Weeds" has 20 reviews and a consensus. Huh?! Just like to point out Rotten Tomatoes' incompetence.
Today, I rediscovered how very, very much I wish I got Turner Classic Movies. I don't read their schedule, because it would just depress me; I would trade AMC, all my sports channels, all my shopping channels, all my "music" channels (now VH1 doesn't seem to be loving things anymore), and Fox News for it. Probably others, really; I don't watch much TV these days. However, as you may recall if you're a regular reader, we did [i]Hail, the Conquering Hero![/i] Sunday night. It's a charming piece of comedic World War II propaganda from Preston Sturges. Today, I was asked if I'd seen it; it was on TCM Sunday night, and the person asking was interested in my opinion of it. Now, I don't mind having made it a Netflix selection; I tend to watch six of their movies a week on a three-at-a-time plan, so that comes to, what, less than a dollar a movie? Not bad, really. However, I know with terrible certainty that not even KCTS will play an Ozu movie, and while I don't know if TCM does subtitles or not, the odds are better.
Komajuro Arashi (Ganjiro Nakamura) is a traveling player with a minor company in post-war Japan. He is not young, and his company is not successful. Years before, when he was younger, he visited the small town he visits here and had some sort of relationship--we don't get a lot of details, really--with sake bar owner Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura). They had a son, Kiyoshi Homma (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), together, but they have told Kiyoshi all his life that Komajuro is his uncle, because he cannot bear the thought of his son's knowing that his father is someone so unsavoury. Komajuro is now in a relationship with the lovely Sumiko (Machiko Kyō), an actress of the troupe. She finds out about Oyoshi and Kiyoshi, and she is horribly jealous. She decides to get back at Komajuro by sending Kayo (Ayako Wakao), she of slightly loose morals, to seduce the boy.
The way women are portrayed in this movie is slightly uncomfortable. Yes, Komajuro's relationship with Oyoshi is, by this point, quiet and comfortable--they are old friends now. They share a pride in their son. And I guess it's true that, at the time Kiyoshi would have been conceived, there were a lot of children being conceived to unmarried parents, and at that parents who would never in this world see each other again. But Sumiko takes out her anger and jealousy on, let's face it, an innocent. True, hurting Kiyoshi hurts Komajuro. It's just that it's a horrible way to do it. It's not Kiyoshi's fault that his parents are still on good terms, for one thing. And then there's Kayo. Yes, by the end of the film, she's fallen in love with Kiyoshi. On the other hand, she is quite happy to seduce him for money. At that, Sumiko was, before she became an actress, a prostitute. I have no problem with Oyoshi. It's just that other two women have, at least initially, no qualms with using their sexuality to get what they want.
It is a beautiful film, of course. It's one of Roger's favourites, and I can see why. It's a very quiet film. Director Yasujiro Ozu is unafraid to pause for a moment and just let us watch the rain fall. There is that comfort between the two old lovers, the peace that doesn't require talking to express itself. I didn't much get into the story itself, but I could see it unfolding. There was quiet, and most directors are afraid of that. Even in its angry moments, there are pauses, and the rain falls. (Actually, it doesn't rain that much in the movie, but I like rain.) Ozu's actors are good enough to let emotion play on their faces without having to talk all the time, move all the time, to let us know what's behind their eyes. I was talking to Moses recently about what makes a great director, and the ability to get performances like this out of your actors is really the first thing on my list and why a lot of popular directors aren't great.
I spent most of the movie wondering who Kiyoshi thought his father was. He's not really a boy; he works in the post office and is saving up for college. Even if he were, though, the timeline doesn't permit him to be young enough not to have asked the question. After all, it has been many years since Komajuro was in the village. If it had been maybe six, and that was when the son was conceived, that might have been possible. A very small boy might be excused for not considering his father. However, he had to have been told something. When Sumiko, in anger, asks Kiyoshi that dangerous question, I quite wanted to know the answer. I assume Komajuro claims to be Oyoshi's brother. If he claimed instead to be the father's brother, it would surprise me to find out Kiyoshi had never considered the possibility that it wasn't true. I suppose, given the timing, he might be told that his father died in the war without its seeming improbable. It's just a thought I had that I wasn't sure the movie did.
The film, remade from an even earlier silent film by Ozu, is about a traveling theater group near the end of their line. Funds and energy are at their limits and the leader of the group "coincidentally" winds up in the same town he'd met a women in years previous and had a child with. Not only that, but the child, now a young adult doesn't know who his father is and believes the leader of the group to be his Uncle. Well, the story plays out from here in true Ozu fashion.
The film is simply gorgeous to look at. One of the few Ozu films to be made in color will have you wishing he would've been able to make more. The characters are interesting enough to hold most peoples attention, but this is not for everyone. If you're interested in investigating art-house cinema, Japanese culture, or just love movies, I certainly recommend it. For an extra treat, I recommend a viewing of the Criterion Collection DVD with audio commentary by Roger Ebert himself, very informative...