Floating Weeds (1959)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

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Floating Weeds is a melodrama about a man whose ill-conceived but well-intentioned lie catches up to him.  He is Komajuro, the leader of a small, struggling acting troupe as it arrives in a seaside village in which resides a former mistress, Oyoshi, and adult son, Kiyoshi.

Komajuro is immensely proud of his son, however the young man knows him as his uncle.  It’s a lie Komajuro encouraged because of his shame over his occupation.  When Kiyoshi asks to see the plays Komajuro puts on, Komajuro insists that the plays are beneath him, aimed at the lower classes.

When Komajuro’s current girlfriend, Sumiko, learns that he has been spending time with his former mistress, she decides to get even with him, paying another actress in the troupe to lead Kiyoshi on.  She does, it works, and he falls in love with her.  This particular arc, however, is conveyed within two scenes.  They meet, she falls in love with him, then not long after she confesses to the scheme.  Kiyoshi could pretty much care less.

Of course Komajuro will find out about the relationship and the reasons behind it.  He looks down upon his son’s soon to be wife, just as he looks down upon himself.  His shame pervades every aspect of his life.

Soon his theatre troupe will disband as their performances draw fewer crowds, and he will entertain the idea of revealing the truth to his son and living with him and Oyoshi in the village.  This is when he learns about his son’s ongoing relationship and becomes abusive.  Oyoshi will then interrupt the fight by revealing the truth, only to have Kiyoshi reject Komajuro as his father, choosing to believe the story he has grown up with, that his father was dead.

It’s brutal to a certain extent, but this being a melodrama centered around an unorthodox lie, Komajuro’s own comeuppance never feels out of place.  It is thus anticipated, at least based on familiarity with more modern movie tropes, and this dampens the effect of what would otherwise be a pretty chilling, heartbreaking moment.

Floating Weeds is a bit deranged, in a quiet way, particularly for an Ozu film, and yet it touches on so many of the themes of his other works.  It’s still just a story about a man and his adult son (like with the relationships between parents and their adult children in The Only Son and Tokyo Story), centering on the parent’s sense of himself and his hopes for his child.  He’s full of shame and a desire to put his son in position for a better life.  This time around, however, it’s built upon a pretty unbelievable lie, a story point that feels taken out of a story very far removed from the ones Ozu often seems to tell.

His films are quiet, his camerawork static, and his characters often restrained.  They reveal underlying emotion in subtle ways, and the silence of his films mirror this personality.  In Floating Weeds, on the other hand, the music is much more present, leaking into certain scenes in ways that feel manipulative, if only because it’s quite unexpected for an Ozu film.  It is the music of a much more conventional drama, setting the stage for comedy or a coming emotional turning point.

As a whole the film does remain quiet, often for long stretches.  The more I think about it, it seems that the music is only really present in the first half of the film, as if Ozu began with a conventional melodrama and somewhere along the line transformed it into a type of quiet, contemplative film only he could make.

Up Next: Gosford Park (2001), John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019), Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018)

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