On a Story of Floating Weeds

25Sep08

In which The Gay Recluse is entranced.

Tonight we watched A Story of Floating Weeds, the 1934 film by Yasujiro Ozu. 

It’s a silent movie, which takes some getting used to (and we say this with regret, not about the movie, but the state of our frenzied existence).

Like the other Ozu films we’ve seen — Tokyo Story, Early Spring and a few others — we were taken with a remarkable balance between the film’s obvious composition — the underlying beauty of literally every shot — and a natural dignity possessed by the actors.

Like so much of life, there is a pervasive melancholy to these films, a sense of striving for something better and never quite attaining it.

A Story of Floating Weeds concerns the leader of a somewhat downtrodden acting troupe who returns to the small city where he had fathered a son twenty years earlier.

The son has grown up with the mother and believes that his father is dead, although the actor/father has paid for his schooling, with the hope that his son will lead a better life than he has.

We are swept away by Ozu’s understanding of both the allure and the oppression of the artistic life, the need to achieve it any cost, and the even greater need to escape it once it is within our grasp.

He is a master at conveying the strictures of society on one hand, but the inevitable loneliness and failure — not to mention the poverty — that is almost always the cost for anyone who dares to abandon it.

But again, much like life, the oppression of any environment is made bearable by a sort of calm sensuality that pervades the film, e.g., we love watching the men in the failing acting troupe as they lie around backstage, lazily making jokes or looking for cigarettes.

We also love watching the women, who are — albeit in a Japanese context — sarcastic and opinionated, but willing to fight (and fight dirty!) for love.

That Ozu was gay is almost a certainty. (He never married or had children, and was expelled from boarding school for ______.)

This cannot be surprising to anyone who watches the way his camera caresses the male bodies in his films, and observes the women with a detached empathy that (at least in our experience) is unlikely to arise in anyone interested in physical possession.

When the film started, we wondered how we could last through 90 minutes of intense silence.

When it was over, we longed for more.

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2 Responses to “On a Story of Floating Weeds”

  1. Lovely, lovely, lovely. You should be reviewing TGR! (Actually, you are, aren’t you? In this particular blog, at least) I’ll have to stick this film into my Netflix or GreenCIne queue. Didn’t even realize that Ozu dated back to the silent era, as I’ve only seen his “talkies.” I do know what you mean about having to get used to the pacing of a silent film. But even some of Ozu’s talkies seem to have more silence than talk, so, if you appreciate his later work, it shouldn’t be too hard to adjust.
    Interesting, your speculation about the filmmaker’s sexuality. This had not occurred to me, yet what you say does make sense, now that i think back on on what I have seen of his work. Thanks for this post!
    PS: Have you ever seen Ophul’s “Madame de…”? We watched it last night, I for the second time, my partner for the first. Although, at my initial viewing (maybe 40 years ago), I think I was far too young to appreciate it, even now, I cannot understand what all the raving is about. (This is the film that both Kael and Sarris found to be the pinnacle?) It’s a lovely time capsule of a period and a style. But there is so much artifice for so long in the movie that when, at last, we are expected to believe that the characters somehow have dropped the artifice and are feeling deeply….. Well, I didn’t buy it. When artifice is all you know, I guess it is easy to convince yourself that something is “real,” as these characters do. The acting style, particularly from Danielle Darrieux, reinforces the artifice. Anyway, I would love to get your take on the film, which is known and marketed in the USA as “The Earrings of Madame de…” If you view the new Criterion DVD release, be sure to click on the supplementary materials and watch the interview with the author who wrote the story on which the film is based. She is hilarious (and not intentionally)!

  2. Thanks for the kind words and the recommendation, JMV! We look forward to seeing more of your reviews on the Trust Movies blog!


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