Directed by Yasujiro Ozu. Japan. 1959.

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Floating Weeds by Yasujiro Ozu is an exquisitely restrained film about a failing acting troupe that travels to a small town and engenders a conflict of generations in a Japanese family. As the film opens a boat moves slowly into the harbor a Japanese coastal village. A Kabuki troupe arrives and begins to pass out leaflets announcing their opening performance. Sadly the opening crowds are small. Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), the principal actor in the troupe, goes off by himself to visit Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura), a former lover who runs a Saki bar. She has an adult son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) who Komajuro had fathered many years ago. Komajuro has hidden his identity from the boy because of his shame at being a traveling actor and Kiyoshi only knows of him only as "uncle".

When Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), Komajuro's mistress and leading star, finds out about this relationship she goes into a jealous rage and hires a young actress, Kayo (Ayako Wakao) to seduce Kiyoshi in order to humiliate his father. Kiyoshi, however, falls in love with Kayo. Komajuro disapproves and shows his anger but cannot exert parental authority since he has not told his son the truth about his parentage. As the troupe continues to draw small crowds, Komajuro's inner pain becomes visible and he strikes out physically against Kayo, Sumiko, and Kiyoshi. It is only in the surprising conclusion that he seems to regain some sense of acceptance of his circumstances. 

Floating Weeds is a very intimate experience. The camera does not move but remains focused on the characters as they engage in discussions about commonplace events. As in Bresson, the actors show little emotion and speak in a monotone with long silences between questions and answers. The overall effect, however, is not banality but a sense of the natural rhythm of life. Ozu is a loving observer of human nature not a moralist. There are no saints in this film and each character is vulnerable and deeply human. Komajuro has been stripped of his career, his relationship with his son, and his female companions who still beg him for forgiveness. He is alone but he has retained his humanity and we feel only compassion for him. The ending is, in the phrase of Donald Richie, "a kind of resigned sadness, a calm and knowing serenity which maintains despite the uncertainty of life and things of this world". Floating Weeds is a masterful film from a director who truly respects his audience.

Howard Schumann
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