film

Old School Review: “Floating Weeds” (1959)

Written by Kôgo Noda and Yasujirô Ozu and directed by Ozu, “Floating Weeds” is a remake of Ozu’s own black-and-white silent film “A Story of Floating Weeds” made in 1934. This film follows a traveling troupe of actors performing Kabuki theatre around the provinces (“floating weeds” is a Japanese term for itinerent actors). In the opening we’re introduced to the sleepy fishing village that will house the story to come as a few random dock workers muse about the heat of the day and the novelty of the incoming troupe. The troupe arrives by boat and parades into town handing out flyers and talking up the locals as they make their way towards their new temporary home while in town, the theatre. While there are some delightful and fun side stories with several members of the theatre crew, the plot’s main focus is on Komajuro Arashi (Ganjirô Nakamura) the leader of the operation, and lead actor. After settling in Komajuro heads off to a Saki bar run by Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura, his former mistress) to visit and go fishing with Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) their grown son who is unaware of his true father’s identity, knowing Komajuro only as “Uncle”.

As you might guess, it isn’t long until Sumiko learns of Komajuro’s ulterior motives in choosing this town for their next round of performances. Which doesn’t go well for Komajuro, as Sumiko’s the jealous type. After she discovers this affront and sees Oyoshi in attendance at one of their shows, she goes to Oyoshi’s Saki bar and aggressively confronts her when she catches Komajuro there playing Go with Kiyoshi one afternoon. Despite Komajuro’s shock and dismay at Sumiko’s transgression he bans her from the Saki bar and breaks it off with her in a powerful argument in the rain. Later on Sumiko offers one of the younger actresses some side money to go and seduce Kiyoshi at his job. While reluctant at first Kayo (Ayako Wakao) eventually accepts without knowing Sumiko’s reasoning for the request. Despite the origins of their relationship, Kiyoshi and Kayo end up falling in love. Shortly after this development Komajuro stumbles upon the two embracing in an alley and finds himself in a conundrum- how can he exercise his authority over Kiyoshi without revealing his true identity to him?

Komajuro had high hopes for his son, Kiyoshi had been saving for college and had plans to support his mother when he could. Before Komajuro can sort out the situation though, Kiyoshi and Kayo elope just as the theatre troupe had begun to fall apart. The financial manager absconded with their funds and several members considered leaving before they become too desperate. Dwindling crowds paired with mismanagement spelled the beginning of the end for the troupe. Eventually Kiyoshi and Kayo head back to town at Kayo’s pressuring- but Kiyoshi and Komajuro clash at the Saki bar when Oyoshi reveals Kiyoshi’s true parentage in an attempt to diffuse the scuffle. Kiyoshi discards Komajuro and leaves in a huff while Komajuro sits in amazement at the series of baffling failures set at his feet. He decides to move on after a cheerful long goodbye to the troupe, ironically riding out of town on a train with Sumiko tending to him- begrudgingly accepting his enemy’s re-established loyalty.

Ozu’s works, of the two I’ve seen so far, have this unique serenity to them. Maybe it’s the leisurely pace, the shots of gentle locations giving the world of his stories a sense of the oft quoted “lived-in” space, or simply that the content of his films are universal to the modern human experience. His films evoke a powerful catharsis felt just as strongly sixty years later. Obviously, not every film will work for every person, but I’m willing to bet that if you gave any of his films a chance you might find yourself quizzically enraptured not just by the drama of common themes across his filmography, but also by the meditative cinematography of his infamous “pillow shots” that melt in-between scenes asking you to pause and digest, relax and breathe. There is something powerful in his depiction of the joy, sadness, humor, and tragedy of everyday life that makes his characters seem familiar and his plots reminiscent of truth.

It wouldn’t be an Ozu film (as I’ve come to notice in my intense search for information on the filmmaker) without a particularly precise composition for every shot in his films. Ozu would typically put the composition of his frame above all else, ignoring the continuity of props and eye-lines for the purity of his images. Which is doubly true for his foray into color filmmaking near the end of his career. His warm pastel coloration for “Floating Weeds” adds another layer of texture to the small seaside village the story takes place in. Between the visible mugginess of the hot summer and the cleansing, humidifying, rain that comes at night and in-between heated arguments, there is a unifying sense of place not only with the “pillow shots” of nature and architecture but in all variables of the filmmaking process. Particularly pleasing was the soundtrack, evocative of popular video game scores (which were probably inspired by films such as this) like “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker” and “Animal Crossing”, it was perfectly set for a small seaside village in the heat of summer. I doubt there could have been a more perfect fit than what we got. The recurring theme gave way to the notion of music belonging to a particular place in its essence, these melodies molded to fit this time and this place. All of these things combine to craft a beautiful and atmospheric stage for Ozu’s story to play out, and it does so with a grace and humility like no other.

While maybe not quite as emotionally impactful as “Tokyo Story”, Ozu’s remake here is a more diverse picture in terms of emotional balance. This is purely my commentary and I can only speak to my experience with the film, but this film held a greater variety of emotional resonance. I was legitimately shocked when Sumiko directly confronted Oyoshi in her Saki bar. The following heated debate in the rain between Sumiko and Komajuro was incendiary and raw. The anger, regret, shock, and disgust thrown at each other was palpable and moving. While earlier, in less fierce scenes, I was tickled by the three bachelors of the troupe and their antics in trying to pair up with the women of the town. This film is a rarity among cinema, as was Ozu himself, and it’s worth your while to experience something new in the pantheon of film, even though this film is sixty years old- it’s still a charming story with universal and relatable characters and themes. Give it a shot!

Final Score: 3 bachelors, 1 lead actor, and 2 mistresses

film

Top Six Movies we don’t need, but are getting anyway…

Inspired by the news that the next “Die Hard” installment will be a prequel, procured here is a list of several other films that we also do not need. Enjoy, or well, try to. I mean, if we wanted to kill off the “Die Hard” Series the easiest way would be to let Bruce Willis continue making horrible horrible installments in this once great franchise.

Point Break Remake

In one of the most uninsipiring trailers in a long time “Point Break”, the remake, tries to channel all of the intense action sequences of the original with varying impromptu Keanu impersonations while hoping to gode a few “Fast & Furious” fans away from “Star Wars” this December. The only thing here that’s gonna break is Keanu Reeve’s heart.

Scarface remake

Is no ground sacred? Are no legends beyond reproach? While Scarface might not be the pinnacle of filmmaking, how can they beat that Al Pacino performance? It’s what made the film! Sheesh, what’s next Ben Hur?

Ben Hur Remake

……………… I’m at a loss. This is literally Film Legend. Why?

Transformers Sequels

This may shock you reader, but I have enjoyed some of the Transformers movies (1 was fun and 3 was entertaining) but after that last one. Wow. I mean, again, not the pinnacle of filmmaking ( AT ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL) but wow, that one hurt. A lot. Do we really need ’10 more years’ of Transformers?

Jumangi Remake

This one is complete heresy. I’m amazed they’re moving forward with this production at all, especially so soon after Robin Williams untimely death. He was the heart of that movie and I can’t really think of any other actor that could appeal to so many, and earn so much laughter in the classiest of ways. Without Williams this is basically just Indiana Jones: The Board Game..movie.

The Newest Friday the 13th reboot/remake

This one is less heresy and blasphemy, but it is a personal grievance. I get that Slasher movies will be made until the end of time, especially when concerning Jason Voorhes, but, why in God’s name does it have to be a ‘found footage’ film? Oh its produced by Michael Bay? This will clearly be the definitive installment then………

film

Movie-Pitch Mondays! Remake of “The Magnificent Seven”

Starting this week my goal is to keep pace with more weekly postings, Movie Pitch Mondays is that first step. This is where I imagine how I would approach the casting, the direction of plot, and crew that inhabit the production of this theoretical film. Description and vision of each film can vary from piece to piece.

For my first pitch I would love to see a remake of the old western classic “The Magnificent Seven”. Which itself was an Old-West style remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language film “Seven Samurai”. I know there’s a current remake of this property under way right now, set to be directed by Antoine Fuqua with Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, & Vincent D’Onofrio among others signed to star. This is simply how I would arrange the property.

The Cast, with character descriptions:

Tom Hanks as the Sheriff with a heart of gold and wit of steel.

Aaron Paul as the Deputy, loyal and proud yet a shadowy past.

James McAvoy as the angry Scottish indentured Railroad worker.

Simon Pegg as the Neurotic Englishman that translates for McAvoy’s character, inventive.

Michael Pena as a wanted bank robber from south of the border seeking asylum.

Vin Diesel as the tough Miner that’s had enough and demands a call to action.

Robert Downey Jr. as the devilishly charming Southern Gentleman, in from the East.

Patrick Stewart as The face of bureaucratic, crushing, power. Joyless.

Tim Roth as Business partner to Stewart’s character, The Good Cop to Stewart’s bad.

The Crew:

Director: JJ Abrams

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

I chose JJ for this piece not only because I personally want to see what he could do in this most classic of sandboxes, but also because I believe he would handle that territory of filmmaking well. I would trust his handling of the genre. After “Star Trek”, and now “Wars” a western will almost be akin to retiring if we’re scaling for box office numbers anyways. JJ has a unique visual style, and I’m assuming his cinematographers would come along with him on subsequent projects. He can handle a piece such as this, a big ensemble cast that has many moving parts while maintaining just the right slow burn pace that is representative of the genre as a whole, but respectful of its varied and long history. What I think JJ brings to this potential film that is most needed is his sense of “Magic” that he has somehow acquired, that almost unfathomable subtle touch of magic that makes the film feel impervious to negativity. If that makes any sense. He’s very Spielbergian in that way, which is why I also chose to add in Tom Hanks as the emotional anchor of the piece.

Christopher McQuarrie has a history of delivering knock out screenplays, and just wrote and directed the latest “Mission Impossible” installment, “Rogue Nation”. With “The Usual Suspects” in particular, and “Edge of Tomorrow” in a lesser way, McQuarrie has proven himself capable of multifaceted and complex screenplays. Though this film won’t be a mind blowing reveal like the ending of “The Usual Suspects” it will have multiple things going on all at once and I believe his style would only compliment it.

I see the plot essentially maintaining the general idea that a group of gunslingers ban together to save a small Mexican town overrun by bandits. However in my revision we would place the setting in America and the Sheriff is the initial push in banding together forces both local and afar to save the town from a crushing pair of British businessman that bought their way into the Oil business and need a railway to run their product through the town for high speed purposes. From there the film almost writes itself to be honest. First the threat is established by the foreign businessmen, then when they are turned down a terrible act of violence is carried out. Perhaps the child of Vin Diesel’s character? Dark, but a high character motivator. You’d have your traditional recruitment scenes wherein Hanks rounds up anyone who isn’t too scared of the threat aka Vin Diesel. Next up, the people that have great needs for which they will join up if reimbursed/helped, a la Pena, Pegg, and McAvoy. Lastly, the wild card, or Robert Downey Jr’s character, the charismatic big talker blown in from the east who is really a washed up legend and feels obliged to take up the cause.Lest the townspeople neglect him or worse, find out his true tale and exile him.

This could be a really fun throwback to Western and Samurai tales. I may have wandered too far from the original concept, but every remake has to have its own skin, it’s own purpose, otherwise why do it at all? Obviously the third Act has to have large numbers of muscle/militia bought by the businessmen that end up carrying out an onslaught on the town and its people. Maybe even have Aaron Paul’s young and nimble deputy fall in battle as in the initial Western remake? Like I said there’s a lot you could do with this, I love the idea of it and while this will look almost nothing like the actual remake that is being made right now, I can dream, and you should too! That’s my Movie Pitch for this week!