REVIEW – Floating Weeds (1959)

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.

REVIEW – Pigs & Battleships (1961)

Videovista have my review of Shohei Imamura’s fifth film Pigs & Battleships.

Released as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, Pigs & Battleships comes with Imamura’s first film Stolden Desire as an added extra.  As I said in my review of the earlier film, despite the fact that Pigs & Battleships is the ‘main feature’ on the disc, Stolen Desire is probably a better film to start with at it serves as a lovely introduction to some of Imamura’s concerns and techniques.  In particular, both films share a similarly frantic and grubby atmosphere of desperate people who are trapped between idealism and realism and are forever making the wrong decisions:

Pigs & Battleships is a film of moments and atmospheres rather than plots and characters. Its characters, although complex and beautifully acted, are seldom allowed much room to breathe in a film that is positively teeming with plot. In fact, this film has so much plot that it can, at times, be difficult to follow. Better then to take a step back from faces and events and focus instead on Imamura’s depiction of Japanese society as a vast ocean that teems with life but whose ceaseless churn can kill in a second. Aside from its beautifully frenzied atmosphere, Pigs & Battleships is littered with lovely cinematic moments and camera movements so beautiful that they’ll melt your face.

On a side note: it has come to my attention that Eureka have got into something of a barney with the book publisher Phaidon over Phaidon’s series of books about directors entitled ‘The Masters of Cinema’. As Eureka point out on their website, their DVD and Blu-ray label pre-dates Phaidon’s book series by a number of years and given how well-known and well-respected Eureka’s MOC label is among European cinephiles, Phaidon’s decision to use the same name for their series of books can only cause confusion.  Eureka have said that they’d be willing to license the name but Phaidon are insisting that the names do not cause confusion. Which is bollocks obviously. If I walked into a bookshop and saw a series of books about famous directors entitled ‘The Criterion Collection’ I would naturally think that it was affiliated with the American DVD label.

What makes this sordid story even more bizarre is the fact that Phaidon are currently the owners of the venerable French film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema and their Masters of Cinema books come with Cahiers branding on them.  While Cahiers has not been a decent magazine for a number of years now, the name Cahiers du Cinema still means something.  In fact, it means quite a bit more to European cinephilia than Masters of Cinema so why are Phaidon trading on someone else’s brand when they have an even more valuable brand of their own that they could trade on? A series of books released under the Cahiers du Cinema brand would be a great idea but instead, Phaidon have decided to borrow someone else’s name.  Unfortunate.

REVIEW – Stolen Desire (1958)

Videovista have my review of Shohei Imamura’s first film Stolen Desire.

Given that Imamura is perhaps best known for his later films including the Cannes-winning The Ballad of Narayama (1983) and The Eel (1997) it is perhaps unsurprising that this seldom-seen remake of Ozu’s A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) should have been overlooked. However, released by Eureka alongside his fifth film Pigs & Battleships (1961) as part of their Masters of Cinema series, Stolen Desire actually constitutes a fascinating introduction to some of Imamura’s methods and concerns, it also gives us some insight into Imamura’s attitude towards his former master Yasujiro Ozu:

Stolen Desire is a film that is full of rage not only at the old guard who refuse to let go of the past but also at the young turks who doff their caps and pay their dues like good little citizens. Stolen Desire is the film of a young man who is angry with not just his generation and his society, but also with himself. The question is: if Kunida is Imamura, does that mean that Yamamura is Ozu?

When I say that this film was re-released alongside Pigs & Battleships I mean it quite literally as it comes as a DVD extra when you buy the film! Bargain!