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Ozu called himself a "tofu dealer" who sold many different kinds of tofu, but never pork cutlets or anything like that. He was a master of variations on a theme, taking simple stories and telling and re-telling them, each time with a subtle difference, a slight bend in light and tone. In this stunning DVD package, we are treated to two servings of the same tofu, with the flavor variation that comes with ageing.
The older film, 1934's silent masterpiece "A Story of Floating Weeds" ("Ukigusa monogatari") was made by a younger man with a younger man's passion and righteousness, and the more modern update, 1959's "Floating Weeds" ("Ukigusa,") longer and in color, shows the mellowing that comes with age, the greater desire to forgive, as we see the same story unfold in the hands of an older version of the same man.
Like the river weed from which the films take their names, the Kabuki actors in both versions float from town to town, going where the course takes them and leaving behind nothing permanent. Long ago, however, one piece of ukigusa, the troupe leader Kihachi, betrayed his nature and left behind something of himself, a son. Now, the course of the river brings Kihachi back to his house of old memories. He is excited, pleased with his son, and briefly considers abandoning his drifting ways to become a true and settled tree. But Kihachi does not float alone, and his leaves and roots are entangled with his Kabuki troupe, including his lover who is determined to keep him drifting.
Like all of Ozu's films, the role of the family is the forefront of "A Story of Floating Weeds/Floating Weeds." In these films, the idea of family is hard to define. Is it the Kabuki troupe, who live, sleep, eat and work together day in and day out, or is it the biological attachment with a son you have rarely met and a woman you never married. Irregardless of the definition, a breakdown is imminent, and only after the pieces have been scattered can we divine the truth.
Individually, either of these films is a treat, but bound together like they are in this Criterion Collection release the bar is raised even higher. A masterpiece of DVD craftsmanship to compliment two masterpiece films. Each film has a commentary track, "A Story of Floating Weeds" by Japanese film grandmaster Donald Richie, who also did the subtitles and provides an insert essay, and "Floating Weeds" by admitted Japanese film novice Roger Ebert. Both commentaries are incredibly insightful and add to the level of appreciation for these films. The new soundtrack for "A Story of Floating Weeds" is sublime, although I have never heard the original so I cannot make a comparison.
Hats off to the Criterion Collection! Now more Ozu, please! Keep them coming, just like this.