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April 22, 2010

Floating Clouds

floating clouds 1.jpg

Ukigumo
Mikio Naruse - 1955
B.F.I. Region 2 DVD

I wanted to see Floating Clouds in part because I felt like seeing another Mikio Naruse film as soon as possible. Also, fellow blogger Iain Stott, compiled a list of 225 films that felt needed more critical attention, and I had a some gaps to fill. Cutting that list down to size was a bit of work, including tossing out titles of films that I really love. I'm not as fond as others regarding the creation of lists, but there are some movies that need some more attention. I will see again When a Woman Ascends the Stairs as soon as possible.

A second thought that is connected to Iain Stott's list is that some of the films are listed either with their original language, and in some cases, the British release title. More importantly, some of the films, particularly those by Kenji Mizoguchi, are not available as Region 1 DVDs. I bring up this point because every once in a while, I will read someone, or hear someone say, that a movie is not available on DVD. Usually what they mean is that the film in question is not available on a Region 1 DVD. Maybe someone will call me on this, but my attitude is, if you're a serious cinephile, you should own a DVD player that is region free. Buying the DVDs is another matter, although there are some outlets that rent imported DVDs. In my case, the player I have was bought from Amazon, under fifty dollars, and Amazon even had the hack code on their website, thereby enabling me to see some other films by Mikio Naruse, rather than hope and pray that Criterion will come to the rescue.

floating clouds 2.jpg

And while Floating Clouds is not a favorite of the Naruse films seen to date, Hideko Takamine is positively luminous in the white dress, seen in the first flashback. The movie is based on the writings of Fumiko Hayashi. Takamine plays the part of a youngish woman in love with a man hardly deserving of her devotion. The film takes place initially in 1946, with Takamine's character, Yukiko, returning to Japan from what was then French Indo-China. Nothing is said about her life between the time that Japan was defeated and when we see Yukiko taking her first steps in post war Tokyo. The two, Yukiko and Kengo, met while working for Japan's agricultural department, in what is now the Vietnamese city of Da Lat. One of the men pointedly mentions that the work strictly deals with forestry, an indirect way of acknowledging that whatever they are doing on behalf of the government is not combat related. Kengo is married, yet he and Yukiko have an affair during the time they are working together. Yukiko hopes to renew the relationship with Kengo, only to find herself in one bad situation after another.

On a broader scale, Floating Clouds is about desperate times in Japan in the first years following the war. Yukiko lives in a storage room. Unable to get a job, she is temporarily supported by an American soldier, a small step up from being a bar hostess or prostitute. Even when she goes to a small resort inn with Kengo, her lover has his eye on the innkeeper's wife, initiating an affair while still with Yukiko. Finding no other viable way of supporting herself, Yukiko takes up with her sleazy brother-in-law, now the head priest of a newly created religion devoted to the Sun God. Even with a nice house and clothing, Yukiko still pines for Kengo, no matter that the guy remains married, or has yet another mistress or two.

In this story of "l'amour fou", Naruse recounts Yukiko and Kengo's relationship in Da Lat in a series of flashbacks. What is unusual is that these flashback are all done as straight cuts from the present, eschewing dissolves or any other device. This might be explained by Yukiko's emotional state, that the past is what propels her, what keeps her alive in the present. What the audience sees is not simply a look back at events of a few years ago, but what Yukiko sees in her mind's eye now. The editing of the flashbacks is not simply radical for Naruse, but is something that generally wasn't found in commercial movies of the time, anywhere. What is consistent with Naruse's other films are the traveling shots when two lovers are walking, the use of framing devices in several shots, and compositions of shots that would be repeated in other films. As for Hideko Takamine, even when she's lying on her back, sick from a cold, croaking her lines, she has never looked as beautiful as she does in Floating Clouds.

Posted by peter at April 22, 2010 12:19 AM