In A Story of Floating Weeds (1934), a group of Kabuki players get off a train in traditional Kimonos. One wears a jaunty straw boater as well, looking quaint in rural 1930's Japan . In the remake Floating Weeds (1959), the group gets off a small boat in the same outfits, looking downright antiquated. Time marches on, even for actors who inhabit characters that are timeless.
There's not a lot of plot to either Reeds film, they're essentially backstage dramas about aging actors returning to a town where everything they left behind has been waiting for them. While the remake is blunter than the original, neither film is exactly lavish. Ozu's work is chock-full of austerity (if that is the phrase), and while both films are more fluid than Tokyo Story, they are still character and mood pieces.
The 1934 version is silent, with a wistful piano score by Donald Sosin. The painfully beautiful black and white images illustrate a Japan that stopped existing only 5 years after the film was completed. The 1959 remake, with bright colours and a surprisingly bouncy soundtrack (influenced by Fellini, according to Roger Ebert's commentary) makes up for the subtlety of the original with simmering emotions, feeling raw under the perpetual Japanese mask of civility.
Donald Richie's commentary for the 1934 version gives an in-depth exploration of Ozu's style and hallmarks while discussing Ozu's inspiration and approach to his actors (his story about Ozu's coverage of a simple conversation is worth the price of the disc). Ebert's commentary is self-effacing (he says that Richie is far more qualified in all things Ozu) stresses Ozu's composition and use of colour and music, placing his work on the same level as Carl Dryer and Robert Bresson.
The package is rounded out with a trailer for the 1959 version and informative liner notes from Donald Richie (almost as good as his commentary). The transfer of both films is spotless, while the trailer suffers from some scratches.
Richie points out that the term ‘floating weeds' comes up often in Japanese literature. It refers to aimlessness, of motion without locomotion. It suits the players perfectly. They have traveled a long way to end up where they started, swaying with the wind while staying put. This package is suitable for Ozu scholars or for anyone interested in the evolution of Japanese cinema. Highly recommended.
Other Ozu titles released by Criterion include 'Good Morning,' 'Early Summer,' 'Late Spring,' 'Floating Weeds,' and 'Tokyo Story.'
© 2004 Michael John Derbecker