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Floating Clouds

October 5, 2019

Thanks to Robert Buchanan for bringing this film to my attention.

Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori on Ukigumo

Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori in Ukigumo (1955)

I hadn't even heard of the works of Mikio Naruse until pretty recently, regarding the Japanese masters of the classic cinema I only knew a few ones, that being Yasujiro Ozu, a director which work has obsessed me intensely, and that of Akira Kurosawa, who is a super talented and recognized director that somehow doesn't appeal to me.

II decided I wanted to really get to know a little more about Japanese cinema. Well, turns out that classic Japanese cinema identifies 5 great directors as the ones who made and shaped Japanese cinema and that shaped the global perception of Japan in the west, their names are Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kon Ichikawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and as some of you might expect, Mikio Naruse is one of them too.

You might have heard of Kurosawa and Ozu, because they're the most popular of them, especially Kurosawa, whose style and work is entirely recognizable and follows patterns already known from American filmmakers, Ozu is compared against Kurosawa pretty commonly as someone whose work is almost opposite to Kurosawa's, not only in their genres, but in the way they used the medium.

The other three directors have fallen in some kind of obscurity, the same way it happened to some French, Mexican or European works, does that make any sense? Well, it kinda does, because their work is pretty different to that of Ozu and Kurosawa, and while cinema may be considered universal, I would argue that these other filmmaker's work is difficult to westerners (I hate that kind of tags, but it's kinda true) like us.

Naruse constantly visits the stories of women that had a partner they loved pretty deeply and now, can't find anyone who can give them what their lost partner gave. In the case of Ukigumo, or Floating Clouds we meet Yukiko, a typist that just came back from Indo-China following the end of the WWII, she came to Tokyo looking to marry Tomioka, a man she fell in love with during the war times, to her surprise, she discovers that he is married to an ill wife, and even when he promised, he's not interested in leaving her.

Yukiko is looking for stability, as she's unemployed, lives in a poor neighbourhood and can't find a job because employers are looking for secretaries that can speak in English, ironically, she casually meets an American named Joe, who rapidly becomes close to her, however Tomioka comes back, and Yukiko can't change him for any other person, so she goes back to him.

Tomioka may act as he loves her, but as we soon realize, he is a womanizer, he keeps dating more women and keeps playing with Yukiko. Tomioka, even being poor, keeps dating women, and when Yukiko finally finds stability under the care of his uncle (Who raped her and became rich by starting a cult) she doesn't feel alive yet, she's still longing for Tomioka, the Tomioka he remembers from the jungle, a man who now has nothing , and it's poor just like she is, and Tomioka, even when he tries to erase her from his mind, keeps coming back to Yukiko. Just like more recent titles like Cold War (2018), Floating Clouds tells the story of a couple that doesn't have any control over their future, they're being the victims of a war they didn't even take active part of, they're both poor, they both became unemployed, and maybe, they're just unlucky floating clouds that are just following the direction of the wind.

Floating Clouds is an unusual film, one I'm very interested in and that I liked a lot, it has a different narrative style and its much lighter than other Naruse's works such as "When a woman ascends the stairs". Ukigumo it's interesting as a contemporary watcher, especially because the themes and topics that the film speaks of are still not talked the way they should.

By Óscar Díaz

Published on Film

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