Tag Archives: actors

Floating Weeds (1934 and 1959)


Ozu’s two versions of “Floating Weeds” — the first a silent 1934 black-and-white one and the 1959 remake in color with sound —are somewhat unusual in having a son rather than a daughter breaking loose, and in having a father whom the son does not know is his father. The father is an itinerant actor (the title, “Ukikusa” is a Japanese metaphor for such people) who did not want his son to live the life of insecurity and low status of itinerant actors. He (the father has different names in the two versions, which are also let in different locales) has regularly visited and is called “uncle” by his son, a term of respect for elders in Japan that does not imply any blood or familial relationship.

The older man’s current mistress is jealous of his devotion to the 20-year-old student and to his mother, who runs a tea and sake bar above which they live. The older actress bribes the young actress in the troupe to seduce the boy. She does so, but falls in love with him. After the “nephew” (son) strikes his “uncle” (father), the mother tells her son he has struck his father and the son refuses to accept that a father would have abandoned his child and the mother of his child. The father is chagrined by the accusations and by the son to whom his hopes adhered has “descended” into the theater world to mate.

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Nevertheless, the show must go on, and a troupe much reduced in number, costumes, and props leaves the town the way it came, by train. As Donald Richie’s commentary track on the first version stresses, the story is circular.


Ozu films have regularly been said to lack plot. I’d say they have minimal plots and that the plots may not be linear, generally ending with a new equilibrium after futile resistance to the child mating (and generally leaving, though here it is the father who leaves and continued to be a floating weed, while the actress from his troupe is incorporated into the household of his son and his son’s mother).


Classic Japanese films in general seem slow to 21st-century Americans, and the close looks at shifting dynamics of Japanese patriarchs having to adjust to children growing up have little conceivable appeal to “popcorn movie” fans. Exacerbating the impatience with the muted (melo)drama, Ozu famously eschewed camera movement and – even in 1934 – shot everything from a low angle (eye level of someone seated on the floo). The compositions were carefully planned and, unlike his present-day Taiwanese admirers Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-Liang, Ozu cut frequently. The camera may have been stationary, but Ozu movies are not visually static.

Despite having a lot of dialogue in intertitles, the 1934 version is half an hour shorter. I think I prefer it, though the 1959 version has stars I recognize: Nakamura Ganjiro (The Pornographers, Early Autumn) and Kyô Machikô (Rashômon, Ugetsu) as the rancorous manager and once (and future?) actress mistress.

BTW, Kawaguchi Hiroshi, who played the son, Shinkichi, in the 1934 version turns up in the troupe in the version a quarter of a century later. He is the only person in both versions. I think that, 25 years older, Ozu was more sympathetic to the father the second time around, though it could be that Nakamura’s warmth came through more than Sakamoto Takeshi’s (who also starred in the earliest Ozu film I’ve seen, “I Was Born, But…;” [1932]) did in the original.

Alhough adhering to Ozu’s low-angle practice and compositional principles, the beautiful color of the 1959 version must owe much to the great cinematographer Miyagawa Kazuo (1908-1999) who shot “Enjô”, “Kagi”, and  “The Outcast” for Ichikawa, “Ugetsu”, “Sanshô, the Bailiff”, and “Street of Shame” for Mizoguchi, “Rashômon” and “Yojimbo” for Kurosawa. The Criterion edition has a surprisingly good print of the 1934 version and an even better print of the second.

Donald Richie, who wrote the first book in English about Ozu’s film and was long the champion and explicator of Japanese films to English-language readers, provided a commentary track for the 1934 version, Roger Ebert, who was very enthusiastic about the movie, though less expert on Ozu/Japanese films, provided a commentary track for the 1959 version.

A trailer for the 1959 version and a printed essay by Richie are also included in the Criterion edition.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Imamura’s engaging traveling theater troupe rom-com “Stolen Desire”


Nagato Hiroyuki was  likeable in Imamura Shohei ’s second (some sources, including Audie Bock’s Japanese Film Directors) say first)  movie, “Stolen Desire” (Nusumareta yokujô, 1958) in which he played the lead, Shinichi, a college graduate and nominal director of a troupe of actors (he draws the curtain back and forth and can’t get anyone to rehearse what he wants to do). He not only gets laid, but instead of chasing after a young woman (as in “Endless Desire” before, “Pigs and Battleships” after it) has one catching up and joining him (Chigusa, the (married) older sister of the one he slept with the night before, Chidori).


Not at all a noir, it is sunny for an Imamura film, even with typical Japanese movie heavy rain. The cinematography Takamura Kuratarô’ [Suzuki’s “Tattooed Life”]) was good, if quite different from that of Himeda Shinsaku. There are panoramas of Osaka and of the countryside, as well as extended stage performances (burlesque and quasi-kabuki). There are some Ozu-level shots, but more long shots and more closeups.


There are some humans behaving like pigs, local youths who kidnap and actress after peeping at the bathing actresses, but no femme fatale. The unemployed youths remind me of Fellini’s “I Vitelloni,” while the struggling troupe is something like (but not tragic) “La Strada.” The frustrated director is much younger and more sexually inexperienced than Mastroianni in “8 ½.”

The studio slapped on the racy title; Imamura’s had been “Tent Theater”). Though Imamura became one of the prototypical figures of the Japanese “New Wave,” this was conventionally shot f a “youth movie.”

©2016, Stephen O. Murray



“Scandal” (1950)



Having long ago seen the greatest Akira Kurosawa movies (in chronological order of their making: The Drunken Angel, Stray Dog. Rashômon, Ikiru, 7 Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Red Beard, Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha, Ran), I’ve been watching the early postwar movies  available in a Criterion Eclipse (no bonus feature) set. “I Live in Fear” is the most ambitious and is available in the best print/transfer. A tragedy about a raving older man obsessed with the prospects of nuclear warfare annihilation of his family(/ies), that is an easier film to admire than to like.

The one I like the most is Scandal (Shubun, 1950), an indictment of celebrity privacy-invasion and corruption of the judicial system. The young but already charismatic  Mifune Toshirô played Ichirô Aoye, a genial and pure-of-heart painter working in the mountains who meets a young pop singer Miyako Saijo (Yoshiko Yamaguchi, also known as Shirley Yamaguchi) who has refused to be interviewed by a scandal sheet called Amour.

She is being stalked by paparazzi (before the word was coined). Ichirô gives her a ride on his motorcycle back to the inn where both are staying, and Amour published a lurid “The True Love Story of Miyako Saijo. Ichirô sues for slander, but his lawyer Hiruta (Takashi Shimura  who appeared in more than twenty Kurosawa films and about as many Godzilla movies), who is not particularly good at his job (and knows it), is bribed b the magazine publishers to throw the case. His greed is not for personal gain but to buy things for his tubercular dying daughter (Katsuragi Yukô). As in “I Live in Fear,” Shimura’s character wrestles with his conscience. The second half of the movie is Shimura’s. Mifune’s idealistic (or naive) young hero becomes a supporting character, as Yamaguchi i,s even in the first part which would seem to center on smearing her in retaliation for non-cooperation with the tabloid press. Neither of their characters is much developed.

I like the mountain scenes, and the far less urbanized Tokyo on view in the second half is fascinating, but the last half seems (in long retrospect) to be sketching for Shimura’s central role in “Ikiru” (though what was immediately ahead was “Rashômon,” an international sensation that put Kurosawa on the map of world cinema).

“Scandal” is not so simplistic a denunciation of the tabloid press and the corruption of the court system as I have made it sound like. The questions about different conceptions and representations of elusive “reality” that made “Rashômon” a term in English for multiple perspectives is at least embryonic in “Scandal.” And I think that Shimura here takes on some of the guilt of his generation that along with the conventionality (in Hollywood Production Code terms) of the conclusion makes the movie readily accessible to American audiences eager for contrition and representations of the American occupation’s reforms promoting Truth and Justice as well as the (fantasy of) the American Way.

Some see “Scandal” as a Dosteoveskyan turn for Kurosawa, though I think that the earlier “Drunken Angel” in which Shimura played a slum physician and Mifune a tubercular gangster is more Dosteoveskyan. (Kurosawa’s 1951 adaptation of The Idiot had 99 minutes lopped off his cut.) I’d say that “Scandal” is Kurosawa’s most Capraesque redemption movie (although the 1947 “One Wonderful Sunday” is plenty Capracorny, too). The portrait of scandal-inventing celebrity journalism has not lost its relevance.


©2016, Stephen O. Murray

The movie is available on he Criterion Postwar Kurosawa set.