Sunday, March 25, 2007

Floating Weeds

1959, Japan, directed by Yazujiro Ozu

A remake of his own 1934 A Story of Floating Weeds, Floating Weeds preserves, almost to the letter, the storyline of the earlier film, and as such provides a fascinating opportunity to contrast Ozu's directorial choices after the passage of 25 years. Of course, the film illustrates not just Ozu's own evolution but the transformation of the industry in which he worked: the most obvious manifestation of this is the move to colour (Ozu was already behind the times in persisting with silent film in 1934; that choice was impossible in 1959). Storytelling conventions have also changed, and the snappy rhythm of the 1930s is replaced here by a somewhat statelier pace, and much additional local colour, announced in the very first scene; the main storyline is not introduced for some time, whereas the original film has almost no extraneous action. However, the director's predeliction for low angles, sometimes just inches above the tatami mat, is unchanged, although in one key scene of confrontation, beautifully shot in the rain, Ozu chooses somewhat higher angles than on the first occasion.

There's an additional poignancy in the knowledge that after the war the Kabuki acting troupe's time has passed by almost entirely; the competition is ever more low-rent, as they attempt to keep pace with strip shows and the like. There's also an edge to the portrait of the troupe that is missing from the first film, which is often more broadly comic; for someone so closely associated with the acting milieu, Ozu's portrait of that world is strikingly unaffectionate, and he uses much of the additional running time to add material that casts the actors in a less than glorious light.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States