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The company was founded in the late-eighteenth century, initially as a producer of live kabuki theatre; but it expanded its output to encompass movie production in the 1920s, soon abandoning the mannered stylisations and all-male yarō-kabuki conventions of traditional Japanese drama for its own version of the Hollywood star system during the silent era, which ushered in a mode of narrative expression much influenced by that which was familiar from American movies of the day, but which was still concerned with portraying the everyday lives of ordinary Japanese people.Ozu’s work is, of course, renowned for its detailed dissection of family life, which it achieves through the delicate unwrapping and laying bare of character: the novelistic, in-depth exploration of inter-generational relationships between Japanese parents and their children, growing up in a country tinged with regret for a vanishing past even as it comes to grips with modernity.Yasujirô Ozu was one of the most celebrated, idiosyncratic yet -- in his day -- commercially successful filmmakers in the history of the Japanese film industry.He worked, across nearly the entirety of his movie-making career, for the Shochiku Company Limited -- the mammoth studios 1923 after failing his university exams twice.The members of the troupe themselves, lead a mundane existence between shows: arriving by ship, packed into its hold in the sweltering heat, the leadfemale member (this is a modern kabuki troupe who have re-introduced women performers) chain-smoking furiously as she will be seen to do throughout most later ‘off-stage’ scenes (women smoking is a sure visual code sign for abrasiveness in Ozu’s cinema), while the male performers visit the local brothel to haggle over their choice of prostitute or else attempt to chat up the local beauties …with little success, given the evident low regard travelling theatricals are held in here, even by a poor coastal community.Nagata’s involvement lent a similarly high profile to Floating Weeds, which required that Ozu work with a different cinematographer from his usual collaborator, Yûharu Atsuta - who beforhand had been almost Ozu’s only photographic partner and who had been instrumental in conceiving the visual look of his films since 1937.

The subject matter of Floating Weeds develops out of the arrival, in a small coastal port town, of a travelling troupe of theatre players led by its chief actor and employer Komajuro Arashi (Ganjiro Nakamura), during the stifling heat of the summer of 1958.These initial scenes provide us with an evocative sketch portrait of the community and its visitors that resonates far beyond the mere handful of sequences set before us to illustrate it.Gradually, Master Komajuro and his current mistress Sumiko (played by one of the most recognisable actresses in ‘50s Japanese cinema, Machiko Kyō) emerge as the key characters in this set-up: Komajuro assures the town theatre’s impresario (Chishû Ryû) and the players of his own troupe, that their initially poor audiences will soon pick up as the season progresses.Nakamura’s comic displays of over-enthusiasm, which erupt out of his desire to engage a reticent Kiyoshi in numerous father-son bonding activities -- such as fishing or endless games of Go (which he plays because Kiyoshi is keen on the game, not because he has any particular aptitude for it); his need for excuses to spend his free time with the boy, while being anxious to maintain the secrecy that surrounds their relationship and not reveal who he really is to his son, makes for a gentle, relaxed form of humour, etched with regret.Contrasting the precariousness of theatre life via the troupe’s dependency on achieving a certain degree of popular success with its show in order to enable Komajuro to earn enough money to be able to afford to move on to the next town, lest his performers become “stranded” in one place, and setting that situation next to the ‘master’s’ desire also to experience a simulacrum of settled family life, but still always with the option of one day moving on, bit by bit brings out the sensibilities of each of the main players: Komajuro’s former mistress Oyoshi, gently appears to accept the father of her child’s causal, on-off relationship with their son, while harbouring the secret wish that he will eventually decide to stay put and the three of them might one day settle down as a proper family.

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