Criterion Cover to Floating Weeds (1959)
|Directed by||Yasujirō Ozu|
|Produced by||Masaichi Nagata|
|Distributed by||Daiei Film|
Floating Weeds (浮草 Ukigusa) is a 1959 Japanese drama film directed by Yasujirō Ozu, starring Ganjirō Nakamura and Machiko Kyō. It is a remake of Ozu's own black-and-white silent film A Story of Floating Weeds (1934).
The film takes place during a hot summer in 1958 at a seaside town on the Inland Sea. A travelling theatre troupe arrives by ship, headed by the troupe's lead actor and owner, Komajuro (Ganjirō Nakamura). The rest of the troupe goes around the town to publicise their kabuki play.
Komajuro visits his former mistress, Oyoshi, who runs a small eatery in the town. They have a grown-up son - Kiyoshi, who works at the post office as a mail clerk and is saving up to study at the university. However, he does not know who Komajuro is, having been told he is his uncle. Komajuro invites Kiyoshi to go fishing by the sea.
When Sumiko, the lead actress of the troupe and Komajuro's present mistress, learns that Komajuro is visiting his former mistress, she becomes jealous and makes a visit to Oyoshi's eatery, where Kiyoshi and Komajuro are playing a game of go. Komajuro brusquely chases her away before she can say anything too calamitous, then confronts her in the pouring rain. He tells her to back off from his son, and decides to break up with her. Sumiko calls Komajuro an ingrate, and reminds him of the times she has helped him out in the past.
Backstage one day, Sumiko offers Kayo, a pretty young actress from the same troupe, some money and asks her to seduce Kiyoshi. Although Kayo is at first reluctant, she gives in after Sumiko's insistence, without being told why. She goes to Kiyoshi's post office to make him fall for her. However, after knowing Kiyoshi for some time, she falls for him and decides to tell Kiyoshi the truth. Kiyoshi is undaunted and says it does not matter how it started. The two are then engaged in a relationship which, after a while, is discovered by Komajura.
Komajuro confronts Kayo, who tells him of Sumiko's setup, but only after asserting she now loves Kiyoshi and is not doing it for money. Komajuro has a violent confrontation with Sumiko and tells her he does not want to see her again. She pleads for reconciliation, but he is unimpressed.
While the personal dramas surrounding Komajuro are taking place, times are hard for his theatre troupe, which has difficulty attracting a modern-day audience with its old-fashioned kabuki style. The problems pile up, as the manager of the troupe has absconded, and business - due to the ever decreasing audience members - is bad. Komajuro has no choice but to disband the troupe, and they meet for a melancholy last night together. Komajuro then goes to Oyoshi's place and tells her of his troupe's break-up. Oyoshi persuades him to tell Kiyoshi the truth about his parenthood and then stay together with them at her place as a family. After some discussion, Komajuro agrees. When Kiyoshi later comes back with Kayo, Komajuro becomes so enraged to see them together that he beats both of them repeatedly, leading to a physical tussle between Kiyoshi and him, ending with Kiyoshi pushing him towards a table. To stifle the brawl, Oyoshi reveals to him the truth about Komajuro. Kiyoshi first responds that he had suspected it all along, but then refuses to accept Komajuro as his father, saying he has coped well without one so far, and goes to his room upstairs. Taking in Kiyoshi's reaction, Komajuro decides to leave after all. Kayo wants to join him, but Komajuro asks her to stay to help Kiyoshi out and to make a fine man out of him, as was always Komajuro's hope. Kiyoshi later has a change of heart and goes downstairs to look for Komajuro, but his father has already left, and Oyoshi tells Kiyoshi to let him go.
At the train station in town, Komajuro tries to light a cigarette but has no matches. Sumiko, who is sitting nearby, comes up and offers him a light. Sumiko asks where Komajuro is going, and asks to go with, since she now has no place to go. The two reconcile and Sumiko decides to join Komajuro to start anew under another impresario at Kuwana. The last scene of the film shows Komajuro, tended by Sumiko, in a train heading for Kuwana.
The troupe's performances
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The title Ozu first intended for the film was A Ham Actor (大根役者 daikon yakusha, "radish actor"). This title is said to have been abandoned because it was felt to be insulting to Ganjirō Nakamura - the actor playing Komajūrō - a big star of the kabuki theatre in western Japan at the time. There is a conversation between Komajūrō and Kiyoshi in which he says, when charged with hamming it up, that that's the style of acting that his public pays to see.
We first see the troupe performing a scene from Chuji Kunisada (Kunisada Chūji). Chuji Kunisada, a historical figure who lived from about 1810 to 1850, was romanticised as the Robin-Hood-like hero of a number of plays and novels. He was a gambler and petty thief who, having returned to his native village to find his family ruined and his sister driven mad by the wicked local magistrate, wreaked his revenge before taking refuge in the forest, where he and his fellow-outlaws robbed the rich to give to the poor. In the scene we see, Kunisada (played by Sumiko) is taking his leave of his faithful companions, Gantetsu and Jōhachi, on Mt Akagi. Wild geese flying south for the winter and crows returning to their nests are used as images of parting. Ozu includes a small joke in the staging of the scene to confirm that this is not a very polished troupe of actors. When Gantetsu delivers the line ‘The wild geese are calling as they fly towards the southern skies’ he points off-stage into the auditorium. So when Sumiko, as Chuji, turns stage left to deliver the line ‘And the moon is descending behind the western mountains’ she is actually facing east.
- Ganjirō Nakamura - Komajuro (troupe leader)
- Machiko Kyō - Sumiko (his mistress)
- Hiroshi Kawaguchi - Kiyoshi (his son)
- Haruko Sugimura - Oyoshi (Kiyoshi's mother)
- Ayako Wakao - Kayo (younger actress)
- Hitomi Nozoe - Aiko
- Chishū Ryū - Theatre owner
- Kōji Mitsui - Kichinosuke
- Haruo Tanaka - Yatazo
- Yosuke Irie - Sugiyama
- Hikaru Hoshi - Kimura
- Mantarō Ushio - Sentaro
- Kumeko Urabe - Shige
- Toyoko Takahashi - Aiko no haha
- Mutsuko Sakura - O-Katsu
Note: Hideo "Koji" Mitsui, who plays one of the older members of the troupe in this version of the story, had portrayed the protagonist's son in the earlier (1934) version.
Floating Weeds was released on Region 1 DVD by The Criterion Collection on April 20, 2004, as a two-disc set with A Story of Floating Weeds. An alternate audio track contains a commentary by Roger Ebert.
Floating Weeds is widely acclaimed by film critics. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four, and included it on his "Ten Greatest Films of all Time" in 1991. Alan Bett of The Skinny gave the film a full five stars. Tom Dawson of BBC gave it four stars out of five. Allan Hunter of Daily Express rated it 4/5, while Stuart Henderson of PopMatters gave it a 9/10. The film currently holds a 95% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics consensus stating that: "Floating Weeds boasts the visual beauty and deep tenderness of director Yasujiro Ozu's most memorable films -- and it's one of the few the master shot in color."
In 2002, American film director James Mangold listed Floating Weeds as one of the best films of all time. He said, "Ozu is the world's greatest director film geeks have never heard of. A poet, humanitarian, stylist, innovator - and a brilliant actors' director. I would recommend the film to anyone with a heart who knows direction is about more than camera moves." In 2012, Spanish film director José Luis Guerín, as well as two other directors, listed the film as one of the greatest ever made.
- Richie, Donald (1974). Ozu. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 246. ISBN 0-520-03277-2.
- "A Story of Floating Weeds". The Criterion Collection.
- Ebert, Roger. "Great Movie: Floating Weeds". Roger Ebert. Archived from the original on 2015-02-18.
- Ebert, Roger (April 1, 1991). "Ten Greatest Films of All Time". Roger Ebert. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- Bett, Alan (November 30, 2012). "Floating Weeds". The Skinny.
- Dawson, Tom (July 22, 2003). "Floating Weeds (Ukigusa)". BBC.
- Hunter, Allan (December 7, 2012). "Floating Weeds DVD review". Daily Express.
- Henderson, Stuart (April 21, 2010). "Essential Arthouse Vol. V: Floating Weeds". PopMatters.
- "Floating Weeds". www.rottentomatoes.com.
- Mangold, James (2002). "BFI - Sight & Sound - Top Ten Poll 2002". Sight & Sound.
- "Votes for UKIGUSA (1959)". British Film Institute. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- Guerín, José Luis (2012). "José Luis Guerín - BFI - British Film Institute". Sight & Sound.