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A STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS (Ukikusa monogatari) (director/writer: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters: Tadao Ikeda/based on the American film The Barker/from a story by James Maki; cinematographer: Hideo Shigehara; editor: Hideo Shigehara; cast: Tomio Aoki (Tomi-boh), Choko Iida (Otsune, Ka-yan), Hideo Mitsui (Shinkichi), Takeshi Sakamoto (Kihachi Ichikawa), Reiko Tani (Tomibo’s father), Rieko Yagumo (Otaka), Yoshiko Tsubouchi (Otoki), Tomio Aoki (Tomi-boh); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; Criterion Colection; 1934-silent-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“It’s basically a soap-opera story that Ozu enriches with great camera work and characterizations, making it more special than it should have been.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Comes near the end of Yasujiro Ozu’s (“Early Spring”/”Tokyo Twilight”/”The End of Summer”) black and white silent film cycle. Ozu stated he didn’t make a sound picture because he promised his cinematographer Hideo Shigehara he would wait until the studio perfected the sound system. In Ozu’s diary he left an entry saying: “If I can’t keep promises like this, then the best thing would be to give up being a director–which would be all right, too.” A Story of Floating Weeds was remade in Technicolor in 1959 as Floating Weeds, and offered no big changes from the original. Ozu made this melodrama into a picture oozing with atmosphere and as an intense character study, as the slight plot remains secondary. It was written by Tadao Ikeda, who based it on the 1928 American film The Barker by George Fitzmaurice–a film about a traveling carnival.

After being gone for four years, Kihachi Ichikawa (Takeshi Sakamoto) returns by train with his struggling acting troupe to a remote country town. Soon after their arrival, his current mistress Otaka (Rieko Yagumo) discovers the lovable ne’er-do-well Kihachi sired a college-aged son, Shinkichi (Hideo Mitsui), by the local cafe owner Otsune (Choko Iida), and the kid thinks the troupe leader is his carefree uncle and that his father is dead. The jealous mistress bribes a young pretty actress in the company, Otoki (Yoshiko Tsubouchi), to seduce the innocent Shinkichi. Instead the two fall in love. When Kihachi discovers this deception, he lectures Otoki and beats his mistress. The troupe soon goes bankrupt because it rains steadily and the attendance is dwindling. Kihachi calls it quits and disbands the group after paying them off and selling the props. He returns to the cafe to spend some quality time with the mother of his child, while Otoki and Shinkichi continue their love affair. When Shinkichi discovers the truth he yells out that he wants no father. Kihachi departs and asks Otsune to look after Otoki. At the train station he meets Otaka and the two team up again to form a new troupe in the next town.

Ozu plays on the metaphor of the Sakamoto character being similar to a floating weed, who is drifting leisurely through life by being carried by the stronger undercurrents just like the floating weed is by the river. It’s basically a soap-opera story that Ozu enriches with great camera work and characterizations, making it more special than it should have been.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”