Ozu’s famed Floating Weeds, a remake of his A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) is a careful examination of past choices and present missteps. It is also one of Ozu’s more confrontational pieces in a career built upon quiet desperation and resignation. And yet, there are the ever-present joys of watching an Ozu film: the un-rushed narrative focus, the quiet/still scenes of empty rooms, the geometric interplay of the interior sets, the rich atmosphere and the underplayed acting from the entire cast which allows the determined resolve of the story to play out truthfully, without overstatement.
Floating Weeds concerns the story of a theatre troupe coming to a small coastal town. We find out that the lead actor and owner of the troupe, Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura) has a connection to this town and that he has come here to visit his son and former lover Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura). However the young man, Kiyoshi, believes that Komajuro is his uncle as he has been told. When Kiyoshi was born, the man didn’t want the boy to know that his father was an itinerant actor, so the secret has always been kept and the boy was led to believe that his father died. Things go smoothly until an actress in the troupe named Sumiko (Machiko Kyo) gets suspicious of Komajuro's intentions in the town and begins to meddle in the delicate family lie that the man has created for himself.
There is a particular scene in this film where the plot begins to thicken, tension begins to build, and we realize that conflict has come to Komajuro's carefully calculated life and everything is about to go wrong. There is a rain storm that comes and as it’s captured by the camera, there is a deep cleansing sensation afforded to the film. We are allowed to watch the rain. We see the rain through windows, and from different angles as it falls on flowers in the courtyard, as it falls into the street etc. There’s also a terrifically staged sequence where Komajuro and Sumiko are opposite the street from each other under the eaves of the house and rain dividing them both. It’s as if the rain has washed away the protective “cover” that the man has created for himself and has exposed his lie metaphorically.
What I love best about this film is the way Ozu pulls you into the drama through the actors and the atmosphere. There tends to be a bit more confrontation, especially in the final 1/3 of the movie, than is usually commonplace in Ozu's films, where the conflict often plays out internally within the minds of the characters. Here, people grab one another, they strike each other, they twist each other’s arms. Additionally, the use of the summertime heat……people fanning themselves, the sound of the droning cicadas, the lazy summer afternoons at the beach, provide a thick atmosphere. Ozu’s use of the acting troupe also reflects a heightened state of dramatic effect, with the use of the costumes and the make-up providing a double-dose of cinematic drama. This is one of my favorite Ozu films and it’s fantastically written, shot, acted (particularly by Nakamura and Kyo), and directed. There is not a false step in this magnificent film.