Set among the backstage lives of a ragtag, down on its heels traveling theater group, this early silent film by Yasujiro Ozu is immediately reminiscent of Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel, Fellini's Variety Lights or Carne's Children of Paradise. These are all films about actors, the floating weeds of the title, drifting from town to town, their real lives a lot more dramatic -- and illusory -- than the piffle they put on stage every night for a few bucks to get them to the next town.
An actor returns to the town where years before he left a local woman pregnant with a child. The boy has since grown to early adulthood thinking his father was a civil servant who died, and that his biological father is simply a kind-hearted uncle who has come for a visit. When the actor's current girlfriend gets wind of his past, she sends another actress to seduce the son, thereby setting in motion a sequence of events that will release the real truth -- that will, in other words, bring down the curtain.
All of these people are following pipe dreams -- a point I'm not sure isn't perhaps underscored a little by all the smoking people do. (Although, of course, people did actually just smoke a lot in 1934.) It isn't because they can't face reality so much as because they, and we, all need a little illusion to get by, even if it's the illusion that our best days are still ahead, that the train to the next town is taking us on to something bigger and greater.
The Criterion disc comes with an optional musical score that was written expressly for the film, but I chose not to hear it. The silence alone is powerful. When the story comes to its crisis, when all the truths are told, you can hear every word, loud and clear.
Ozu reshot it years later with color and sound, but Blockbuster hasn't sent that one yet.
For now, it's on to Late Spring.