Blu-ray Review: A Story of Floating Weeds/Floating Weeds | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 25th, 2024  

A Story of Floating Weeds/Floating Weeds: Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu

Studio: The Criterion Collection

May 21, 2024 Web Exclusive Photography by The Criterion Collection Bookmark and Share

The Criterion Collection’s newest box set, featuring a silent film by Yasujiro Ozu and his remake of that film 25 years later, is a fascinating look at the changes and continuities of the acclaimed Japanese director’s storytelling and filmmaking styles. While both films essentially share the same plot, Ozu explores their narratives differently, depending on technological limitations/advancements and the state of Japanese society during their respective eras.

A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)—one of Ozu’s many silent films—follows a traveling kabuki troupe led by Master Kihachi (Takeshi Sakamoto), who stops in a town where they performed many years ago. There, Kihachi reunites with an old mistress and his illegitimate son who has no idea that Kihachi is his father, believing him to be his uncle. As the two spend more time with one another, Kihachi’s current mistress becomes jealous of her partner’s secrecy, employing methods to destabilize his relationship with his former mistress and his unknowing son. The result is a heartbreaking journey through the complexities of both familial and romantic love, including how the two can intersect and alter the lives of everyone involved. There’s a sense of melancholy throughout, amplified not only by the film’s narrative but through Ozu’s use of tight and intimate framing, often bringing out the monochromatic contrast within each setting strikingly and unforgettably. Donald Sosin’s musical accompaniment also assists in unearthing these complex emotions, making the 86-minute silent feature profoundly powerful and difficult to forget.

Floating Weeds (1959)—despite being shot in color, including dialogue and renaming its characters—follows the same plot as its predecessor. While the film may best be classified as a remake, it only takes a couple of minutes to notice that the film functions more as an expansion of the 1934 version, bringing its ideas and visual language one step further rather than attempting to relay the story beat-for-beat, like so many remakes these days do. The changes to the narrative—most notably, the detailed characterization of the film’s supporting cast—exist to propel the film’s tensions further, ultimately setting up similar themes to the silent feature that are delivered even more elegantly and strikingly. For only being able to make six films in color before his untimely death in 1963, Floating Weeds could easily convince you the director exclusively made polychromatic films his entire life. His mastery of color contrast, and the way it can represent, echo and complicate narrative beats, is profound and thoroughly unique. Moreover, the mix of bright hues evokes the feeling of summer in a way few films do—especially paired with the constant sounds of cicadas chirping, the sweat beading on characters’ faces, or the desolate walkways in the film’s town. Setting the scene in this way—during a season filled with hope, freedom and opportunity—creates a contrast with the heartbreaking, melancholic themes propelled by the film’s narrative.

While both films are memorable in their own right, the magic of this box set is the ability to watch A Story of Floating Weeds and Floating Weeds back-to-back, seeing how Ozu’s filmmaking and storytelling styles remained constant regardless of the changes in the industry, medium and world around him. Both of the films are dialogue-heavy. Floating Weeds is built around conversations between characters, while A Story of Floating Weeds uses a large number of intertitles to animate characters’ conversations. The dialogue in both films is simple—enough to illuminate the characters and provide thematic resonance but never enough to bombard viewers or complicate the narrative too much. Additionally, Ozu’s emphasis on interiority and his inherent desire to capture the domestic sphere of societal life are evident in both films. Even though the settings in Floating Weeds are much larger and more advanced than those of A Story of Floating Weeds, the characters and their problems always stay at the center of both stories, furthering the film’s ruminations on love, loss and the way the two are inherently intertwined. It is by seeing these two films so close to one another that all of these ideas make themselves evident, making the box set a fascinating representation of Ozu’s broader career.

The main purpose of the Criterion Collection’s physical release of these films is to pair them together, so the box set lacks the label’s usual number of extra features. Regardless, the 4K digital master of Floating Weeds and the HD digital master of A Story of Floating Weeds look incredible, perfectly encapsulating the visual differences and continuities between the two works. Both films include audio commentary tracks, including one by iconic film critic Roger Ebert for Floating Weeds.



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