Sep 1, 2016

4th Sept 2016; Ozu's FLOATING WEEDS

A film by Yasujirô Ozu
1959/ Japan/ 119 minutes
5.45 pm / 4th Sept/ 2016 / Perks Mini Theater

Sooner or later, everyone who loves movies comes to Ozu. He is the quietest and gentlest of directors, the most humanistic, the most serene. But the emotions that flow through his films are strong and deep, because they reflect the things we care about the most.“Floating Weeds” (1959) is like a familiar piece of music that you can turn to for reassurance and consolation. It is so atmospheric--so evocative of a quiet fishing village during a hot and muggy summer--that it envelops you. Its characters are like neighbors.

A panoramic, low angle opening montage of an idyllic Japanese coastal province defines the understated, cinematic poetry of Yasujiro Ozu: a lighthouse framed against a tranquil sea; docked boats undulating with the sweeping waves; villagers weaving lackadaisically through local shops, as much for social interaction as for commerce. 

A struggling, itinerant acting troupe arrives into town for a kabuki show, lead by an aging performer, Master Komajuro . It is a tenuous homecoming for Komajuro. Ozu expertly weaves the narrarative through Komajuro's life, his women, his son and  unexpected setbacks that he faces.

Ozu's pervasive use of low camera height provides more than just a directorial signature style in Floating Weeds. As in Tokyo Story, the atmosphere is intimate and accessible. The characters appear grounded, human, reflecting Ozu's respect for the dignity of the common man. The camera does not wander, but retains focus on the space, creating a unbiased perspective of the characters. 

Inevitably, we understand Komajuro because he is all too human: the aging actor at the twilight of his career; the leader faced with the dissolution of his failed troupe; the father ashamed to reveal his deception. He has transcended the great samurais of his struggling plays, stripped of their cosmetic facade, and is rewarded with compassion and humanity. "Nothing is constant under the sun," someone observes, and this is very much a film which acknowledges the transience of human lives.
Ozu was born on December 12, 1903 in Tokyo. He and his two brothers were educated in the countryside, in Matsuzaka, whilst his father sold fertilizer in Tokyo. Ozu developed a love of film during his early days of school truancy, but his fascination began when he first saw a Matsunosuke historical spectacular at the Atagoza cinema in Matsuzaka. Ozu's uncle, aware of his nephew's love of film, introduced him to Teihiro Tsutsumi, then manager of Shochiku. Not long after, Ozu began working for the great studio—against his father's wishes—as an assistant cameraman.

Yasujirô Ozu

Ozu's work as assistant cameraman involved pure physical labour, lifting and moving equipment at Shochiku's TokyoThe Sword Of Penitence that became his first film as director (and only period piece) in 1927. Ozu was called up into the army reserves before shooting was completed. No negative, prints or script exist of The Sword Of Penitence—and, sadly, only 36 out of 54 Ozu films still exist. studios in Kamata. After becoming assistant director to Tadamoto Okubo, it took less than a year for Ozu to put his first script forward for filming. It was in fact his second script.

Days Of Youth (Wakaki Hi, 1929) is Ozu's earliest extant picture, though not especially typical (and preceded by seven others, now lost) as it is set on ski slopes. Stylistically it is rife with close-ups, fade-outs and tracking shots, all of which Ozu was later to leave behind. Three years later came what is generally recognized as Ozu's first major film, I Was Born, But... (Umarete wa Mita Keredo..., 1932). This moving comedy/drama was a great success in Japan both critically and financially. It was one of cinema's finest works about children. Thirty years into his filmmaking career Ozu was making films which, like Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952), questioned the sense of spending your whole working life behind a desk—something that many of his audience must have been doing. Ozu's films represent a lifelong study of the Japanese family and the changes that a family unit experiences. He ennobles the humdrum world of the middle-class family and has been regarded as “the most Japanese of all filmmakers”, not just by Western critics, but also by his countrymen.

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