Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Story of Floating Weeds

1934, Japan, directed by Yasujiro Ozu

One of Yasujiro Ozu's final silent films, A Story of Floating Weeds is a poignant and often rather pointed story of familial loss that showcases the director's emerging personal style. His penchant for low camera angles - whether filming standing, sitting or prone actors - is given full rein (almost to the point of self-parody), and creates a very distinct and disconcerting relationship with the action (at one point, he places his actors on a railway embankment with the camera below, so that we see the action almost from below ground level). Ozu also makes beautiful use of frames within frames, employing the square angles of Japanese rooms to great effect - though the most stunning sequence in the film takes place outdoors, the protagonists sheltering from the rain under two opposing verandas.

Like many 1930s films, from across the globe, the story is told with great economy; a surprising amount of action is compressed into the film's 84 minutes, and the director uses visual cues to supply information in succinct fashion, swiftly moving the narrative forward. The focus of the story is on the return of a travelling actor to the town where his son lives (the son, though, has no idea who his father is), and there's a melancholy air over all of the interactions between father and son, a sense that their relationship cannot overcome notions of honour that the father has used to justify his absence. There's a bitterness in the growing sense that the father's entire world is outmoded: his troupe can barely survive in modernizing Japan, and there's a vivid sequence, shot against a backdrop of telegraph wires, that underlines the contrast between tradition and the changing pre-war world.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States