Floating Weeds and The Story of Floating Weeds (1934/1959, Japan, Ozu)
Ben and I take a pass at an unusual pair of films wherein a director remakes his own film, a la Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Turns out I saw more of the 1934 film than I thought, as I recognized certain scenes from it reproduced in the 1959 remake. (I must say it is interesting to see a second version of a film done by the original director. Too rare for an article about it for Matt?) Especially noticed by me was the scene across the lane while it rains as he severly scolds his mistress from the theatrical troup.
The original is definitely more austere than the remake and not just because we are dealing with b&w vs colour, silent vs sound and smaller budget vs bigger budget. The 34 direction is much more stark in relation to the sets and the performances are given much closer to the chest. True, by 59 his devotion to the non-movement of the camera has reached a sort of science and this stylistic crystalization gives the later picture a new level of wooden beauty. But the 59 version is so much more passionate, more emotive in the dialogue, more influenced by Western acting concepts. The main guy in the remake turns in a very good performance and really holds the story together, with no shortage of irony in relation to the original as well as to the commerical evolution of Japanese cinema as a whole and its increasing estrangement from Kabuki theatre. Also, the later film is much more lavish about making visual statements. Some of the still compositions are gorgeous and, again, not just due to the colour in them; the framing itself is more purposefully picturesque. This said, the use of color is sometimes wonderfully bold and straight up beautiful. Perhaps most of all, the 59 film has and the 34 film does not have a sense of humour, so the former is more existenially well-rounded.
Yet, I really am sad now that we didn't overcome whatever technical challenge defeated us the first time with respect to the new score for the 34 film. Assuming it was good, I think it would have helped me appreciate the power of the austere original approach. For the 59 version seems to me in comparision to verge on schlocky melodrama and the main problem lies with the music. There is just too much of it and almost always it suffers from being trite. Whenever it stopped and we had unaccompanied dialogue or sound effects or silence, the film worked much better for me. But so often the tunes were cranked up and I found them as crappy as the sort of clap-trap running through a Doris Day movie.
Comparison aside, however, just taking both of them together as my introduction to Ozu, it's just too slow for me man. More precisely, too still. Maybe this goes to a deep cultural level and Ozu truly embodies an authentically Japanese temporal sensibility that simply does not spin at the same pace as my gears. Frankly, I doubt it, but whatever. Regardless of the cultural basis, it seems to me that Ozu's aesthetic is ultimately being determined by his refusual to animate the camera itself. Ozu ain't out for no steady-cam action, no how. His is a stationary perspective and then some. No Pepsi-lite hand-held commotion for Ozu. Initially, I was struck by the grace and poise of this paradigm but eventually it wore me down as dull and lifeless. Coming at this from the Tarkovsky school, I can grasp the power of the long shot in real time, but nailing the camera to the floor each time out is the death of dynamism. Wither motion in motion pictures? So, for all the compositional elegance and strong themes in the tale, well, I nodded off in 34 and Jacob walked out in 59.
All I can suggest is to stick with it. I had a similar reaction after watching Tokyo Story, my first Ozu, but then I watched five or six of them in a week, and I'll be damned if it didn't work its voodoo on me. Like you, I thought there was something almost melodramatic and soap opera-ish about it all. But upon reflection I think that while he certainly verges on that territory, he always pulls back when things get too cornball. His refusal to indulge in the character's more romanticized emotions is a big part of it, as does his willingness to give his characters quiet, private moments away from the camera's prying eye. There's also something about the rhythms of his films that had a cumulative effect on me, and I soon just slipped right into them like familiar slippers. As a result I've gone from being comme ci comme ca on Ozu to being a solid fan. I mean, sure, he's no Kurosawa--his film's lack the social context and the dynamism of K's films, for one--but still, there's a place for guys like Ozu who paint those intimate, gentle portraits as well.
I do want to clarify that it was really the music in the 59 show that I found hack, giving what was otherwise a veneer of schmaltz. And it was precisely because of this that I thought I should rethink the 34 original, because it was plainly more minimal and understated in comparison. But it is ultimately the static camera, pretty much at eye level too, that started to box me in. I have to admit that there seems to be some sort of gentle almost passive approach happening that I might have to slow myself down to understand. This is to tip the hat to that guy (name?) who was having none of Scorcese and Herzog, opting instead for Malick and Ozu; remember, he posted in response to your Aguirre piece?
Yeah, I remember that. I like Ozu, but can gimme Herzog or Scorsese.
Regarding the music, Ozu was pretty disinterested in it. His standard directions to the guy who scored most of his films (name escapes me) was "gimme more of the same." It is, indeed, a key flaw in his cinematic approach.
I don't mind the static nature of his films. In fact, I kinda dig how an Ozu film is pretty much immediately identifiable. Also, it matches the "boxed in" emotions of his central characters.
That said, I must give you Passing Fancy. It is an early silent Ozu that is quite sweet and funny. It reminds me of a Chaplin film.
I did say that the big difference between the 34 and the 59 is that the latter has a sense of humour. I found it quite whimsical at times. And this comes back to the performance from the lead, he is very sweet and almost mishchevious; all the while with that serious undertow of pathos. So, sure, I can see how this Chaplinesque sensibility might be even more present in some other Ozu.