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PG Floating Weeds (Ukigusa) (1959)
Reviewed by Tom Dawson

updated 22nd July 2003

reviewer's rating
four star


Yasujiro Ozu

Yasujiro Ozu
Kôgo Noda

Ganjiro Nakamura
Machiko Kyô
Ayako Wakao
Hiroshi Kawaguchi
Haruko Sugimura

119 minutes

Artificial Eye




World Cinema

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Re-released to celebrate the centenary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth, "Floating Weeds" (Ukigusa) was one of the Japanese director's final films.

A remake of his own 1934 silent pic "The Story of Floating Weeds", second time round Ozu and Kôgo Noda shift the story's location to a sleepy seaside village in southern Japan, where a group of travelling players - the 'floating weeds' of the title - arrive by boat one sultry summer.

The kabuki troupe's ageing leader Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura) soon looks up his former flame Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) and their illegitimate teenage son Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who believes the itinerant actor is simply his uncle.

Out of jealousy, Komajuro's current mistress and leading lady Sumiko (Machiko Kyô) instructs young actress Kayo (Ayako Wakao) to seduce Kiyoshi as a way of gaining revenge on her lover. Meanwhile, the company is plunged into further debts following the disappearance of the fraudulent theatre manager...

"Floating Weeds" is richly atmospheric, with its expressive use of colour, lyrical cutaways, and masterly interior compositions - predominantly shot from Ozu's trademark low-level camera position - impressively illustrating the director's visual artistry.

The setting here is deliberately anachronistic: references to the war indicate that we're in the late 50s, but there are no cars or televisions in this particular isolated community.

Ozu includes a number of sub-plots about the supporting members of the troupe attempting to seduce local women, and deftly handles the shifts in tone from the gently comic to the more melancholic.

"Nothing is constant under the sun," someone observes, and this is very much a film which acknowledges the transience of human lives. The limitations of these beleaguered characters are observed by Ozu with a generosity of spirit, paving the way for Sumiko's touching gesture of forgiveness.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

"Floating Weeds" is re-released in select UK cinemas on Friday 1st August 2003.

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