A Story of Floating Weeds (1934, Yasujiro Ozu)

My first mid-30’s silent film. Chaplin’s Modern Times doesn’t count, and the Russian Happiness was two years earlier. Japan still had union narrators in theaters, so their cinema stayed silent longer than most.

Traveling actor Kihachi brings his troupe to the town where his ex-girl and illegitimate son live. K. has made himself scarce, sending money whenever he can, so the boy (Shinkichi, now 20) could grow up without the burden of a no-good father, and whenever Kihachi’s in town he stays with the mother and sees the boy.

Kihachi’s current woman in the troupe suspects something is up, finds out the story through bribery and sets up younger girl Otoki to go after the boss’s son. The two fall in love, and Kihachi tries to break it up, leading to the revelation that he is Shinkichi’s father. Meanwhile, constant rain means the troupe can’t perform, and finally they’re out of work long enough to have to sell off their stuff and break up. After an emotional climax, the young lovers stay behind, and Kihachi and his girl make up at the train station, heading off to form a new troupe.

Great movie, slow-building, ends up as emotional and true-feeling as the other Ozus I’ve seen. I ought to watch at least one per year. They are refreshing. Kihachi somehow stays sympathetic even though he hits everyone in the movie at some point. That’s just how he communicates, I suppose. Definitely different kinds of families here than in Tokyo Story or Equinox Flower.

This was something like Ozu’s thirtieth movie, and it’s said to be the beginning of his mature style. It’s an uncredited remake of Hollywood’s oscar-winning part-talkie The Barker from 1928, which was also remade twice in Hollywood (with Clara Bow in ’33 and Betty Grable in ’45).

Half these actors had been in Ozu’s Passing Fancy the year before. The kid had later roles in Kon Ichikawa and Seijun Suzuki movies, and his father appeared in Ozu’s own 1959 color remake Floating Weeds. Maybe Katy will watch that with me next year – Masters of Cinema’s N. Wrigley calls it the most beautiful Ozu film.