Floating Weeds (Ukigusa) (1959)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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A travelling troupe of actors comes to a seaside town where a former lover of the group's manager, Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), lives with her son by him, a young man named Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who believes Komajuro is his uncle. When Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), Komajuro's current lover, learns he is going to see these two, she confronts him. Angered by her perceived interference in his personal affairs, Komajuro rejects Sumiko, after which she convinces another woman belonging to the troupe to seduce Kiyoshi.

Floating Weeds, Yasujiro Ozu's remake of his own 1934 movie A Story of Floating Weeds, is a charming, enjoyable, and skilfully crafted film that is sure to mesmerize and touch the viewer.

The story the director tells is often melodramatic, but it is consistently moving, nevertheless. Ozu has populated the film with such a variety of captivatingly flawed characters that the viewer cannot but be affected by both their joys and their troubles. While Komajuro, for instance, emerges as a violent, hypocritical womanizer, he is so well realized that the viewer is able to engage with him and feel his frustrations, regrets, hopes, and sorrows. His love for his son, his social marginalization, his acceptance of society's values, and his failure to adhere to those values are all made clear, and all help to fascinate and move the viewer.

These various nuances of Komajuro's character are emphasized by the director's deft evocation of the distinctive culture of the itinerant actors to which that man belongs. Ozu depicts, for example, both the sexual promiscuity prevalent among the actors and their acceptance of society's condemnation of such behavior. Thus, while showing how Komajuro and the other men in the troupe attempt to seduce various women in the town and how they apparently do the same in every town they visit, the director also shows how such actions emphasize these individuals' separation from the wider world.

Ozu additionally makes it clear that the women of the troupe are seen as disreputable not only by people outside their profession, but even by their fellow actors. They are condemned as immoral by everyone around them and accept that evaluation themselves. Because they are consequently seen as having little worth as persons, their lives are filled with sorrow, and such sadness informs each moment one of the actresses is on screen. When, for example, the young woman who seduces Kiyoshi falls in love with him, she cannot bring herself to believe that she is worth being accepted by him. She is always ready to run away in order to free him of the burden of her presence. Even after she is mistreated and abused by Komajuro, she asks him to take her with him as he leaves, apparently doing so only in order to give Kiyoshi the chance to escape from her.

The emotions aroused by the depictions of the characters and their actions are greatly enhanced by the film's consistent loveliness. Floating Weeds is a subtly, beautifully filmed movie. The scene in which Komajuro and Sumiko are shown arguing with one another from opposite sides of a street, separated by sheets of rain, that depicting their nearly wordless reconciliation in a train station, a third portraying the actors relaxing under the glaring sun while bantering lasciviously, and numerous others are both remarkably simple and stunningly evocative. Each is presented with a charming and graceful restraint that displays Ozu's considerable skill as a director.

What is more, all the actors acquit themselves well. It is difficult even to select one or two to praise for an outstanding performance. Each brings just the right qualities to his role. Thanks to Nakamura, the viewer is able to see Komajuro's selfishness and limitations, but also how much he loves his son and how he wants him to be a better person than he is himself. Machiko Kyo's portrayal of Sumiko brings out not only her strength, but also her love for and dependence on Komajuro. Even Kiyoshi, who appears to be a very simple character, is given such life by Hiroshi Kawaguchi that his troubles, hopes, and love are able to enthrall the viewer. The film is delightfully well acted.

Although Floating Weeds never quite rises to brilliance, it is beautifully made and surprisingly affecting.

Review by Keith Allen

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