Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Tale of Floating Weeds

Ozu and Theater: 1

Ukigusa monogatari [A Tale of Floating Weeds] by Yasujirô Ozu, 1934:

For the first time in Ozu's cinema: the burlap swathe backgrounds the title credits / For a repeat: "Kihachi" gets reused (from Passing Fancy) as the name for Takeshi Sakamoto's character / Ukigusa monogatari — in English, A Tale of Floating Weeds, released by Criterion on a fine DVD and perhaps distributed via English-subtitled prints as A Story of Floating Weeds... this might be taken as an academic quibble, monogatari [tale] vs. den [story], but each word carries different 'notes' in English as in Japanese... (for example, it's a bit strange, I think, even though it's perpetuated in innocence, that Tôkyô monogatari has always been known as Tokyo Story rather than A Tale of Tokyo...................) / Now let's talk about moxa treatments / I love when films from the '30s or '40s depict medicinal applications which therapeutically lacerate the subject's back, whether the picture be A Tale of Floating Weeds or Clouzot's Le Corbeau / Everything finely tactile in a film, especially the laying of hands on an actor's shoulder-blades, relays vicarious comfort / (Digression: Maybe the most tactile film ever made, and one of the greatest feature debuts, is Martel's La ciénaga) / I'll lightly dip in and out of A Tale of Floating Weeds here, — it's the Ozu film which, for no good reason, 'practically speaking,' I've 'lived with' the most, possibly because for the longest time it was the earliest of his pictures I had access to, and so I felt if I could really internalize this one... to tell the truth I don't remember what I was thinking, I don't know why it was important... I know it can't hurt to watch an excellent film by any great director multiple multiple times over the years, it almost doesn't matter which movie / Mark of the Vampire, La ricotta, or Séance / These days I sort of see this film from a distance / Maybe it's Sakamoto / I'd like to show it to a new audience, explain that every auteur-movie about theater is superb / If the entire work doesn't spring back into focus for me then, I'll look at it fondly still, and there's always Ozu's 1959 color remake titled simply Ukigusa [Floating Weeds], one of the most beautiful color films ever made, and starring the sublime Machiko Kyô, who turns 87 in March / The source of the "floating weeds" in the early film's title: the fishing scene featuring Kihachi, the leader of the itinerant acting-troupe, and his son Shinkichi (Kôji/Hideo Mitsui) — in which their lines are repeatedly, synchronously cast — graceful and eloquent expression of the flow of all things, time included / Kihachi's troupe has rolled back into the town where his son lives, still raised by his mother; his father's identity has always remained unknown, and Shinkichi has known Kihachi solely as an 'uncle,' a 'family-friend,' a father figure... this so that the boy would formulate goals unsullied by the blood-association, direct himself toward aspirations elevated beyond a life as a begging trouper / But 'honor' takes its leap of faith in either scenario, makes its sacrifice / Who's to say whether this ever would have mattered for the boy / The truth is Kihachi felt the 'call of the road' / And the link between father and son might be as tangible as the fishing line but it too disappears beneath the flow / Otaka (Rieko Yagumo, of Mizoguchi's films), a level below in the company's hierarchy, and an unspoken 'wife' of Kihachi, invades the family's home (which doubles as a restaurant) as jealousy takes hold and suspicion percolates; she drops her cigarette casually to the floor: "Thank you for taking care of the master every day." / Kihachi shoves her out of the establishment — cut: close-up of Otaka with her palm to her face — she's been slapped / Otaka asks fellow-trouper Otoki (Yoshiko Tsubouchi) to seduce the son: cut to a pillow shot of a pail and some dice / Otoki waits by the tree, flags blowing in the breeze, as the boys ride past on bicycles — she waits for him in the same place after the show — a good student-boy finds his libido, seduced away from work for frolic with a transient actress, in unwitting defiance of Kihachi's nebulous vision / Backstage: dangling Edison bulbs, newspaper advertisements clipped to which enhance the ambiance / (......Love blossoms because if it didn't, that would be false; Otoki pleads: "Don't get mixed up with a traveling player like me." — cut to: shot of Shinkichi's parked bicycle [image of the boy's respite taken in the company of the actress] in the foreground, while deeper in the frame, in focus, Otoki walks away from Shinkichi — cut to: shot of Shinkichi's face — cut to: the counter-shot, Otoki balancing-walking on the train rail... — terrific elegance, the work of a master; and a drama based on the gaze upon events, life incessantly positioning its constituents in the role of audience.......) / Slowly, without sentience, petals flutter down from the exposed rafters which have been letting in the rain / Otaka: "He's cheap, like you, playing around with actresses." — a profession slightly above Whore — all these false roles played like prostitution / At this pronouncement Kihachi strikes Otaka again, petals spiraling to the floorboards — and now we see the blow — and she raises her hand to her face in the same position as earlier (as did Otoki after Kihachi slapped her upon her arrival at the theater from saying goodbye to Shinkichi) / Mise-en-scène: making things happen in the frame, and making the frame happen / Later, nearly bankrupt, the troupe sits and watches the appraisal of their inventory / The appraiser in disgust tosses the dog costume of Tomibô (the great Tomio Aoki) aside after smelling the shit-stink near the tail / This scene is followed by a devastating shot of the strewn accumulations — the dog's mask, etc. — upon the appraiser's estimate and offer / It's all worth a pittance / "Like father, like son — so fast with the girls." / There's hitting in silent Ozu which there isn't in talkie Ozu, action, and melodrama / Shinkichi raises his left hand to his left cheek, always the target for Kihachi's right-handed swing / There's a resolution of sorts / And as Kihachi and Otoka depart for a new future on the train in the night, nothing can be certain / 'Makeshift families' — implying 'somehow you make it work' / Only it might not work

Ukigusa monogatari [A Tale of Floating Weeds] by Yasujirô Ozu, 1934:


Previous pieces on Ozu at Cinemasparagus:

A Straightforward Brat

Friends Fighting Japanese-Style

Tokyo Chorus

A Picture-Book for Grown-Ups: I Was Born, But...

Where Have the Dreams of Youth All Gone?

Passing Fancy


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