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REVIEW – Floating Weeds (1959)

December 7, 2012

FWFilmJuice have my review of Yasujiro Ozu’s wonderful Floating Weeds.

A colour remake of Ozu’s 1934 film A Story of Floating Weeds, the film tells of a group of actors who arrive in a sea-side town.Initially, the actors present themselves as being in a different world from the residents and so work together to seduce local women. However, as the story unfolds, we soon learn that the head of the company has a pre-existing relationship with a local woman and that this relationship resulted in the birth of a child who has now grown-up.

This is a film all about the boundaries between worlds. The most obvious boundary is the one between the people on the stage and the people in the audience but a more important one is that between the world of the professional actor and the world of the respectable citizen. This perceived boundary serves both to draw the actors together and distance them from the world around them.

The plot revolves around a series of characters who struggle to keep these two worlds separate.  Some consider moving from one world to another, others are repulsed by a world and want to keep it separate from their world of choice and others choose one world only to change their minds and lose themselves in another.  The more the boundaries between worlds are tested, the less substantial the boundaries become and the less substantial the boundaries become, the more the characters come to realise the impact said boundaries have had on their lives.

There are always questions to ask when a widely respected and well-established director suddenly decides to remake one of his best known films (*ahem*). One particularly interesting question is the one posed by the fact that A Story of Floating Weeds was also remade one year earlier by Ozu’s one-time assistant director Shohei Imamura. As I said when I reviewed Stolen Desires back in 2011:

Imamura cut his cinematic teeth as Ozu’s assistant and, when the time came for him to make his own film, it was only natural that he should try to step out of Ozu’s shadow by making it clear how different his sensibilities were to those of his master and how better to make that difference apparent than by directing a vicious attack on one of Ozu’s best-loved films?

If we assume that Imamura’s chaotic and slovenly Stolen Desires was intended as an attempt at subverting the dignity and calm of Ozu’s films, might we also assume that the re-make was intended as something of a response to an uppity former underling? as I say in my review of Floating Weeds, there are moments of violence and melodrama in Floating Weeds that are quite unlike anything you usually find in a film by Yasukiro Ozu. Did Ozu film those scenes with Imamura in mind? Was Floating Weeds perhaps intended as proof that the old man still had it in him to make important films (as with Clouzot’s attempt tomake L’Enfer as a reply to the nouvelle vague directors)? That’s a question for scholars but looking at Floating Weeds and Stolen Desires, it is hard not to speculate about why this remake was made so soon after Stolen Desires.

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