Monday, November 17, 2008

The Great Movies: "Floating Weeds"

At the Movies with Michael5000


Floating Weeds
Yasujiro Ozu, 1959


It's a familiar enough story -- a traveling theater group that has seen better days arrives in a remote Japanese village. The cast tries to make the show go on, pursuing their stormy relationships with each other and the locals. It's a solid vehicle for exploring themes like conflicted loyalties, the choices makes between ideals and practicalities, and the way we deal with our own relentless aging. Ozu develops the theme nicely, delivering no fireworks but an amiable blend of poignant moments, quirky vignettes, and laughs.

Ebert tells us that Floating Weeds was long regarded as "too Japanese" for Western audiences. This isn't particularly unreasonable; although the outline of the plot is easy enough to follow, it is tricky to figure out the cultural nuances. I spent a lot of time, for instance, trying to decide whether two key characters were in love, or old friends, or combatants rehashing old resentments, or all three, and for that matter whether this relationship was being presented as normal, or novel, or daring, or what. Watching as a person unschooled in Japanese domestic ritual, you recognize the human universals but have to do a lot of guessing about the cultural specifics.

Plot: The director of a theater troupe has a current girlfriend and an ex-girlfriend, the later with a son who doesn't know who his father really is. Jealous, the current girlfriend sets the boy up with another actress from the company, a match she knows the director will consider beneath his son. Personal dramas ensue.

Visuals: The film has a really interesting visual design. The camera is static, rarely if ever moving or zooming, and every shot is framed by the geometries of the village's architecture. And I mean "framed" quite literally; the right, left, top, and bottom edges of almost every scene as marked by strong architectural lines. The effect is almost like watching a drama unfold in a dollhouse, and in addition to being visually arresting it complements the quiet, contained domestic passions of the story.

Dialogue: In Japanese, with subtitles.

Prognosis: Highly recommended for fans of domestic drama, Japanese culture, or Japanese residential architecture. Not a slam dunk for general entertainment, however.

8 comments:

Yankee in England said...

I just wanted to let you know that Michael500's blog is not as fun as yours.

Michael5000 said...

I'm ten times the blogger that Michael500 is!

On the other hand, I'm nowhere near as eschatological as the good folks at "michael5000.blogpot.com".

(michael5000.blogpot.com found by Morgan)

Yankee in England said...

Okay does it make me look stupid that I had to look up eschatological in the dictionary?

karmaSartre said...

Why aren't the movie reviews in sequence? Oh they are.

Michael5000 said...

@Yank: No, it makes me look like a twirp for using the word "eschatologoical," and it makes you look sharp for bothering to crack a dictionary.

@karma: Approximate alphabetical order. Just because.

Yankee in England said...

um well type it into google and read the wiki entry. I left my dic in US assuming MR. Y in E would have one because every one has to have a dic right? Wrong. Good thing there is that little thing called the internet.

Michael5000 said...

@Yank: It's about time you realized that not everyone has a dic.

Yankee in England said...

I had a really BIG dic when I lived in VA an unabridge dic