Floating Weeds, 1959

A panoramic, low angle opening montage of an idyllic Japanese coastal province defines the understated, cinematic poetry of Yasujiro Ozu: a lighthouse framed against a tranquil sea; docked boats undulating with the sweeping waves; villagers weaving lackadaisically through local shops, as much for social interaction as for commerce. A struggling, itinerant acting troupe arrives into town for a kabuki show, lead by an aging performer, Master Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura). It is a tenuous homecoming for Komajuro, whose first visit into town is to a former mistress named Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) and their adult son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who only knows of him as an uncle. Unable to draw a crowd for the show and abandoned by their manager, the troupe is soon out of work and becomes stranded. Komajuro begins to spend much of his idle time with Oyoshi. His current mistress, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), wounded by his secrecy, commissions a young actress, Kayo (Ayako Wakao), to tempt Kiyoshi, and precipitate his ruin. However, when Kiyoshi falls in love with Kayo, Komajuro risks his relationship with his estranged son when he expresses his disapproval of their relationship.

Ozu’s pervasive use of low camera height provides more than just a directorial signature style in Floating Weeds. As in Tokyo Story, the atmosphere is intimate and accessible. The characters appear grounded, human, reflecting Ozu’s respect for the dignity of the common man. The camera does not wander, but retains focus on the space, creating a unbiased perspective of the characters. Inevitably, we understand Komajuro because he is all too human: the aging actor at the twilight of his career; the leader faced with the dissolution of his failed troupe; the father ashamed to reveal his deception. He has transcended the great samurais of his struggling plays, stripped of their cosmetic facade, and is rewarded with compassion and humanity.

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