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The Criterion Collection presents
A Story of Floating Weeds / Floating Weeds (1934 / 1959)

“Everything changes. It’s the way of the world.”
- Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: April 18, 2004

Stars: Takeshi Sakamoto, Choko Iida, Hideo Mitsui, Reiko Yagumo, Yoshiko Tsubouchi, Tokkan Kozo, Reiko Tani / Ganjiro Nakamura, Haruko Sugimura, Takeshi Sakamoto, Machiko Kyo, Ayako Wakao, Hiroshi Kawaguchi
Other Stars: Chishu Ryu (brief cameo)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:29m / 01h:59m
Release Date: April 20, 2004
UPC: 037429181928
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Yasujiro Ozu did not mind revisiting ideas. His films stay within the same genre: domestic drama. He knows his territory. He does not wish to stray. After all, within the realm of family, relationships, and life's complications, there is a plethora of stories. Ozu tells these tales in the most honest and straightforward manner. In A Story of Floating Weeds and Floating Weeds, two incarnations of the same story, Ozu creates a perfect portrait of his style, chosen material, and growth as a filmmaker.

In this case, life is equated to ukigusa, or duckweed, a surface dwelling water plant that floats aimlessly down a stream or river, going wherever the current flows. Likewise, a troupe of actors drifts throughout the towns and cities of Japan, looking for work and calling no place home. In the 1959 version (the most well known), the troupe's leader, Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura), arrives in his former town of residence. It is a small, out of the way coastal village that forces some to wonder about the merits of performing in such a place. Komajuro's reputation certainly proceeds him, being continually fawned over, especially by the town's rambunctious children. His mistress, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo, of Rashomon fame) is loyal, yet she is the jealous type. When Komajuro wanders off for hours at a time, she becomes suspicious.

She has reason to be. Knowing the troupe is not doing well, Komajuro exudes a sense of confidence necessary for a leader. Certainly this town will not bring great success, but Komajuro's motivations are different. He repeatedly visits his former lover, Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura, the selfish daughter in Tokyo Story), to catch up on old times and to see his son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi). The mature, upstanding boy believes the man is his uncle, thinking his father is dead. Komajuro and Oyoshi are certainly comfortable with this charade, sparing the child from emotional distress. Nevertheless, Komajuro exudes all the pride and excitement of a loving father, praising the fine qualities of the intelligent youngster. Before long, Sumiko finds the truth, and plots revenge by bribing a beautiful young troupe member to seduce Kiyoshi. As a result, an unexpected relationship is forged, others are broken, leading to further disappointment that reinforces the meaning of the film's title.

Enough plot description. Properly describing this film reflects Ozu's style: Less is more. Ozu maintains a sense of objectivity and distance by using his characteristic tatami-level camera placement. These static, low angles, combined with meticulous compositions, place the viewer in the mode of observer. Ozu cares too much about his characters to allow us to intrude on their space. He even gives his characters distance within a scene, demonstrated by an intense argument between two people on different sides of the street during a torrential downpour. As the heavens weep, the pair would rather argue dry than wet. Instead of complicating matters with an intricate plot, Ozu finds developing character and depicting daily life to be substantive. His effectively delicate, sensitive style will force anyone to agree. His elliptical treatment and raw emotion that breaks through the balanced façade keeps the viewer engaged.

The original silent version, made in 1934, depicts the same story. Character names are different, (the leader is named Kihachi, played by Takashi Sakamoto) as is the emphasis on some characters, but the heart is the same. The style of the later rendition is very similar to the first; if it's not broken, don't fix it. Instead, Ozu revisits the material. His early film is the first time Ozu made family and the rifts therein a central theme. As Donald Richie states, it is a darker, more bitter film, perhaps aided by the moody black-and-white photography. The 1959 color version, still in the 1.33:1 ratio of the original (Ozu was rabidly against widescreen, which was in use at the time), famed Kurosawa collaborator Kazuo Miyagawa (Rashomon, Yojimbo) brings a bold color palette, featuring Ozu's trademark flashes of red in each frame (such as a teapot). This alone tends to lighten the mood of the film, which manages to exude a palpable sense of humid summer heat. Ozu has lightened up in his old age.

Though not as powerful as Tokyo Story, these two films provide a quintessential portrait of Ozu's personal and cinematic life. His eternal fascination with the intimate and unspoken is certainly captured in both pieces, as is his progression from concerned youth to a wise, more carefree elder. As we drift down this mortal river toward what lies beyond, we will encounter people, places and situations that may be new or familiar. Old friends can create new dilemmas. This is Ozu's cup of tea, poured from a red pot—one that he likes to refill.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: On Disc 1, Criterion's black-and-white transfer of A Story of Floating Weeds looks very good, considering its age. The image has a consistently soft, hazy appearance, but detail is relatively intact. Contrast is good, showing a clear grayscale. Grain is evident, but the picture is pretty clean, stable and very film-like.

Miyagawa's color 1.33:1 frame is well rendered on Disc 2. Colors are bold and solid, as is the detail level. A consistent smattering of fine grain can be seen throughout which can be distracting at times. There are no signs of digital over-enhancement. Aside from the occasional missing frame or slight shudder (rare occurrences), this is a relatively clean transfer that does this important film justice.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoJapanese (Disc 2)yes
Dolby Digital
Musical score (Disc 1)yes

Audio Transfer Review: A Story of Floating Weeds can be viewed without audio, or with a newly commissioned piano score composed by Donald Sosin. Presented in Dolby 5.1, the new score has excellent fidelity. Sosin's music, inspired by Robert Schumann—who Ozu was fond of—is a fine accompaniment to the film, reflecting some of the chord progressions and themes heard in other Ozu films.

Floating Weeds is presented in its original mono track, remastered in 24-bit. Criterion has done a splendid job cleaning up this track, which features clear dialogue, music, and none of the hisses, pops or cracks that probably plagued the original, unrestored track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Donald Richie and Roger Ebert
Packaging: Double alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert with an essay by Donald Richie
Extras Review: Aside from the two feature films, each dedicated to its own RSDL disc, the only extras are a pair of audio commentaries from two of film's most respected names. Famed Japanese film historian, Donald Richie, on A Story of Floating Weeds, explores the importance of this film in the Ozu canon, along with differences between this and the 1959 remake. He also explains some of the cultural details that could be missed by a non-Japanese audience.

Roger Ebert speaks on Floating Weeds. Ebert doesn't claim to be an expert, but an avid fan, indicated by his essay entry in his series entitled The Great Movies. He brings a fresh, exuberant, critical perspective to the film, expressing his admiration for Ozu's style, into which his comments delve deeply. I always enjoy Ebert's commentaries. He is able to balance his enthusiasm with an informative analysis.

The insert, when unfolded, is extremely long. Would it have been too much trouble to print a booklet? Despite a lack of other features, these two great commentary tracks make for a fine package.

The cover art replicates a poster used by the troupe to promote their show.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Ozu's pair of films on the drifting ways of a troupe of performers exhibits not only his characteristic cinematic style, but his progression into the kind of material that would define his career. His characters and messages are universal, told within the context of daily life. Criterion's effort, though light on quantity, excels in quality. Don't let this one float away.


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