What I Watched, What You Watched: Installment #36

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Today’s two films are a pair of films from my Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films collection from Criterion, which I bought way back at the end of 2008 when Criterion was having a huge sale. Looking over the list of 50 films I still have 21 to watch that I have not yet seen, which is actually one of the reasons I love owning it so much. There’s always something new to watch.

Unfortunately, this week I brought these two films on a little vacation from the home office so I don’t have the 240-page book that accompanies the set on hand so I can’t read the brief essays for these two films. Something to look forward to I guess. Nevertheless, no more babbling… to the movies…

Floating Weeds (1959)
QUICK THOUGHTS: At the beginning of Floating Weeds it felt like it was going to be a comedy due to the jovial nature of the characters and particularly the upbeat score by Kojun Saito. Midway through it becomes a bit dramatic, but I was still unsure of how serious I should take things. Then, in the end, it proves to be a rather serious film, but it isn’t as much of a downer as it really could have been. The phrase “floating weeds” is a Japanese term for traveling actors, and in the case of this film it focuses on a rather rag-tag troupe who make their way to a small fishing village where the master of the group, and the eldest has ties he has not fully disclosed to his current mistress, ties that ultimately cause him trouble and become the guiding force over the course of the rest of the film.

I didn’t necessarily find the film all that great, but at the same time it wasn’t all that bad. There is a great sequence in the rain of which Roger Ebert, a great admirer of the film who provides an audio commentary on the official Criterion edition, mentions in his essay on the film writes:

His shots are direct, but often beautiful. Notice the way he handles an argument between the old actor and his mistress. The camera does not move. They are on opposite sides of a narrow street. It is raining in between them. She walks back and forth with a red umbrella. Break this up into dramatic closeups, and you’d shatter it. The space and rain between them is the visual counterpoint to their feelings.

One other thing Ebert mentions, and actually made me happy to see someone else thought the same, was how the score reminded of him of Tati’s M. Hulot’s Holiday. While I didn’t have a specific Tati film in mind, that is exactly what I was thinking. Ebert refers to the score as “lilting and nostalgic,” and I would definitely go with lifting, but rather than nostalgic I would add “festive” on top of my earlier description calling it jovial. This was the main reason it felt like a comedy for much of its early moments.

However, as to my overall opinion of the film, Ebert writes so passionately about director Yasujiro Ozu it would seem I should seek out more of his work before coming to a final verdict. Much of the acting seemed rather stiff to me, but the storytelling certainly worked. Neither outweighed the other, which is why I feel so moderate on the whole thing, but perhaps some of Ozu’s other work will give me some insight into what I otherwise missed.

Fires on the Plain (1959)
QUICK THOUGHTS: I was not a big fan of Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, although I did enjoy it much more than Flags of Our Fathers. However, the main reason for my weekly chronicling of what I watched and my endless attempt to see as many films as possible is to ensure when I review films such as Letters from Iwo Jima I can offer not only my opinion on those films, but also give examples as to other films along the same lines that worked better for me. Now, after seeing Fires on the Plain, I have one example when it comes to Eastwood’s Iwo Jima.

While the two films aren’t exactly alike; in fact Iwo Jima has the feel of Hollywood while Fires on the Plain will turn your stomach at the depravity of human kind and the depths people will go. Iwo Jima, no matter how dark you think it gets, is child’s play compared to Fires on the Plain which is an immediate slap in the face as a tubercular soldier is condemned and sent back to the hospital from which he came as he is not wanted in his present company. When he arrives at the hospital his company is bombed and the hospital not too long afterward. He is left to roam the countryside in search of food and relief all while carrying a grenade he was given and told if the hospital won’t help you, just kill yourself.

This film is grisly and unrelenting. Men turn to cannibalism and that isn’t all they eat as they reach between their legs for a mouthful all while claiming Buddha is on his way to save them. Just typing that again makes me cringe.

To see how director Kon Ichikawa starts the film with fury and never slows down from there, hit play below and watch the opening 5:48 of the film. If it doesn’t convince you to give this one a shot, I would be surprised, but make sure it’s a night where you’re prepared for realism and not necessarily in need of entertainment in the traditional Hollywood sense.

There you have it. Now share your weekly recaps and weigh in with any thoughts you may have on the films I saw. And remember to connect with my Netflix queue by clicking here, I have already added several titles from those that have already linked up.