Yasujiro Ozu was such a brilliant director. His unique style, filming from the perspective of the tatami, with no camera movement and a deep commitment to showing human emotion, was just under development in the early 30s. A Story of Floating Weeds, which he adapted to a sound film at the end of his life, is the story of an acting troupe, whose head comes back tot he town where he has an old lover and a son who thinks he is an uncle. As he tries to get back into his son’s life without telling him the truth, his current mistress, who is also in the troupe, gets jealous and asks another woman in the troupe to seduce the son as revenge. Although there is a certain light-heartedness to much of the movie, in the end it’s a pretty sad tale.
What makes it so brilliant is Ozu’s ability to create subtlety out of silent film. If there’s one thing American silent film is not known for, it’s subtlety. The crazed eyes and flamboyant movements of the genre served to fill in for the lack of speaking in telling the story. I don’t know enough about Japanese silent film to say if this is a national thing or an Ozu thing (I suspect the latter given how strongly he held to these principles for his long career), but he eschews all of this to tell a story through the actors faces, not as gag or hysterics, but the subtle turning of an expression that would mark the best kind of acting. Of course, Ozu has great actors working for him. The most powerful scenes are between the troupe master/father (Takeshi Sakamoto) and the various women in his life–the mother of his child (Choko Iida) and his current jilted lover (Rieko Yagumo). The women especially are racked with pain from their vulnerable positions and the sadness is palpable and heartfelt and includes one of the most powerful scenes in the history of film. Although several other Ozu films also have a claim to being his best, A Story of Floating Weeds is just fantastic.
I’ve long stated that Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa were the greatest directors of all time. But I think Ozu deserves a spot in that pantheon as well.