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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: A Story Of Floating Weeds (1934) and Floating Weeds (1959).



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#1 of 7 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted April 29 2004 - 08:14 AM

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A Story Of Floating Weeds (1934)
Floating Weeds (1959)

The Criterion Collection





Studio: Criterion Collection
Year: 1934 & 1959
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 86 Minutes & 119 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (both versions)
Audio: DD Mono & DD 5.0 (for optional score on disc 2)
Color/B&W: B&W and Color
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $39.95
Package: Double Keep Case





The Feature:
Before the narrative of the film is discussed, I think it is essential to discuss the film’s title as much as the story itself. A Story Of Floating Weeds is a social study which chronicles the life of a Japanese troupe of roaming performers who wander from town to town never staying long enough to “grow roots”, similar to a “floating weed” that drifts along a river with no real destination in mind. The only factor determining their length of stay is the amount of tickets they sell. The films were written and directed by Yasujiro Ozu.

The film itself is extremely simple as we witness Master Komajuro Arashi (played by Ganjiro Nakamura) and his troupe as they arrive in a small fishing village on the southern coast of Japan for their production of a kabuki play. Komajuro goes to visit a woman, Oyoshi (played by Haruko Sugimura) who runs a saki bar, and who we learn, is a former lover. Soon, he asks about a young man, Kyoshi (played by Hiroshi Kawaguchi) and we learn that he is actually the boy’s father, a secret that he and Oyoshi have kept by referring to Komajuro as the boy’s uncle.

Realizing that he’s never been there as the father figure and perhaps reflecting that his age is no longer on his side, Master Komajuro devotes a growing amount of his own energy and time towards salvaging the relationship with his ex-lover Oyoshi, and their now-adolescent son Kyoshi. However, Komajuro’s current mistress, Miss Sumiko (played by Machiko Kyô) is unaware of his ex-lover and the child they share. As Sumiko becomes increasingly suspicious, there is a definite conflict when the jealous and manipulative vixen of a woman, discovers that he's been seeing the other woman. She becomes so enraged, that she schemes and plots revenge by bribing a beautiful young troupe member, Kayo (Ayako Wakao) to seduce Kiyoshi in an attempt to humiliate his father.

When Komajuro speaks of his now grown up son, he is energized. We witness the excitement of a proud father who’s missed out on watching his rugged good looking son prosper. Even though he has been responsible for at least sending money to Oyoshi to support Kyoshi and to help with his education, it becomes clear that he has regrets for not having been there for his son. Not wanting him to follow in his footsteps he is proud of the boy who shows great promise and encourages Kyoshi’s dream of pursuing an education specializing in electronics.

Sadly, the opening crowds are small and it becomes no longer feasible to keep the troupe together and they decide to part and go their separate ways. By this time however, Kyoshi has truly fallen for Kayo and after he learns that Komajuro is his real father, he refuses to allow Komajuro to come between him and Kayo. Komajuro must now decide whether to remain in the village in an attempt to be the father he never was or go on his way to do the only thing he knows how.

Considering Ozu remade several of his own films, it should come as little surprise, that he would revisit and remake this film 25 years later with Floating Weeds, which is basically a scene for scene copy (other than the character’s names) of its predecessor. The remake rarely diverts from the original storyline, albeit the atmosphere differs and is that of a rather drab looking B&W silent film to a, then, modern day color contemporary version. It’s an interesting reminder of the times to hear that when the young man is seen for the first time in years by his father in the original version, he refers to him as being eligible for the draft, while in the later version he claims he would have made a good conscript for the war. Also, look for the posters the troupe hangs around town in the 1959 version. Turns out it is the artwork Criterion is using for the packaging for this set.



Video: We have become accustomed to Criterion releasing top notch A/V transfers and in this case they have delivered once again, in fact that’s a gross understatement. Let’s start with the 1934 version of A Story Of Floating Weeds.

Black levels were better than average while whites appeared to be reasonably stark with a very slightly gray look to them. There was a healthy level of grayscale which I would rate as better than expected. Image detail was mostly soft throughout the film but never blurry or distracting and there were occasions of nice definition. The amount of dirt, dust or scratches was kept to an absolute minimum.

The image appeared to be mostly stable but there were infrequent and sporadic bouts of light shimmer and instability, albeit very slight and never bothersome. I did not detect any problems regarding compression errors and any type of enhancement. By and large this is a transfer that exceeded my expectations for a 70 year old film.

Floating Weeds goes beyond “acceptable” and takes the transfer to a different level and one I would describe as gorgeous looking.

As most know, I am a big fan a of vibrant looking colors and the color here literally lept from the screen. Colors always looked extremely vibrant and nicely saturated, while flesh tones looked accurate and always natural.

The level of image detail was also pretty impressive and I would describe it as being only slightly soft with many great examples of sharp definition. There were many outdoor shots which looked spectacular showing a off a true sense of dimensionality. There was only a hint of very fine grain which was appropriate. The print looked immaculate and was basically free of any dirt or dust with only a couple visible scratches throughout the entire film. There were a couple of instances of artifacting which was visible during a couple of the outdoor scenes but these were short lived and didn’t affect my viewing pleasure. Thankfully there was very little evidence of any enhancement.

To be honest, there were instances I had a tough time believing I was watching a film from 1959. High marks to a job well done.



Audio:
The 1934 version of A Story Of Floating Weeds is a silent film, so you’re thinking, hmmm what’s he going to say? Very little obviously. Surprisingly, there was a slight hiss that persisted throughout the entire film, never intrusive but definitely present.

Criterion commissioned a piano score to be composed by Donald Sosin which is presented in Dolby 5.0 to accompany this silent film. Ozu was apparently quite fond of Robert Schumann which is why this music was chosen. Whether or not you opt to listen to the newly created piano score is your choice but it has exceptional fidelity, which sounded absolutely wonderful through my Martin Logans as if I were front and center at a concert hall.

As for the Floating Weeds version, the film is presented in its original monaural Japanese language with optional English subtitles. There is also hiss present throughout this version as well which is slightly more problematic in that it takes on an almost “voice activated” presence about it at times. Not a huge problem by any means but it is worth mentioning.

Dialogue was exceptionally bold and always intelligible and the overall track had a rather natural sound to it. The track was rather thin and there really isn’t a lot to mention in terms of the dynamic range.

Other than the infrequent hiss that was sporadic, I’d say the track does a pretty good job at doing what it needs to.



Special Features:
The first disc contains the film, A Story of Floating Weeds.
[*] It also contains a Commentary track by Donald Richie who is a film scholar on Japanese cinema. Richie displays quite a bit of energy and is basically non stop throughout the duration of the feature. Much of his discussion relates to the director’s technique and style (a theme which will be replicated during the Ebert commentary on the remake of the film) and there are also a number of cultural differences which are highlighted. There is also a comprehensive essay which was written by Donald Richie which also provides an interesting perspective comparing the original film to the remake. The essay is excellent and can be found as part of the insert package.
[*] There is also a Commentary track on the second disc (Floating Weeds) by film critic Roger Ebert. Considering how few of these commentaries Roger Ebert has actually done, one can’t help but think he is especially fond of this film. Much to his credit though, he admits that while he is indeed a fan of Ozu and his work, he is by no means an expert on the great director. Much of the commentary is spent discussing the director’s composition and framing of his subjects in the film. It was also interesting to hear how Ozu liked splashes of red throughout various scenes of his films (a trait I couldn’t help but notice when I was evaluating the video quality), which works to great effect. For those who prefer a commentary which focuses on technique and framing, you’ll enjoy this feature.
[*] Finally, a Theatrical Trailer is also provided for the newer version of the film.



Final Thoughts:
Although the tempos of these films are rather slow, they are no less enthralling. The films reinforce the fact that we are just as susceptible to the same types of problems regardless of the time period or what part of the world we live in. Nobody, despite their level of social status, is immune to such issues that plague average people every day. Our entire life is a coming-of-age process, and in this case, the film is a story that allows reflection from an aging man not only coming to terms with his own mortality, but finally realizing what he’s missed out on in life.

Criterion has done a wonderful job at bringing both of these touching films to our favorite format. If you’re a fan of Ozu or either of these two films, you shouldn’t have any reservations about picking up this set.


Release Date: April 20th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 7 OFFLINE   Joe Cortez

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Posted April 30 2004 - 02:24 AM

Thanks for this great review; I've been waiting a pretty long while for this release and I'm glad to hear it turned out to be another winner from Criterion. I'm definitely picking this up ASAP.

#3 of 7 OFFLINE   Ike

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Posted April 30 2004 - 02:47 AM

Thanks. I wish there were more reviews like this one.

#4 of 7 OFFLINE   Scott_MacD

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Posted April 30 2004 - 03:50 AM

I'll be picking this one up for sure, after falling completely for Yasujiro Ozu's Toyko Story. Thanks for the review, Herb.

#5 of 7 OFFLINE   NeilK

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Posted April 30 2004 - 11:41 AM

Just recieved my copy yesterday in the mail, can't wait to see the the original silent version of this film. Also, the transfers are sure to be stunning, even for the silent. Hope they (Criterion)start releasing more films from Japan and a re-release of Good Morning would be pretty cool too (the transfer on that disc is debatable, also, no extras!!!).

#6 of 7 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted April 30 2004 - 11:51 AM

Ebert did mention on his show that he only does commentaries for movies he loves and so far has done 4:

Casablanca
Citizen Kane
Dark City

and now
Floating Weeds

Since I loved all of his other movies he did commentaries for, I think this one is a safe blind-buy.

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#7 of 7 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted May 01 2004 - 05:04 AM

Herb, what a thoughtful and thorough review. Really, this is good.