Floating Clouds

Ukigumo

dir. Mikio Naruse

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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In the ruins of postwar Japan, a self-sacrificing woman (Hideko Takamine) rekindles her affair with her philandering ex-lover in this supreme masterpiece of celebrated auteur Mikio Naruse.
This is it: for many critics, film historians and fellow filmmakers (Ozu even noted his admiration for it in his diary), the ultimate masterpiece of Naruse's career. Floating Clouds opens in the bombed-out ruins of Tokyo as Yukiko (Hideko Takamine, more luminous than ever) searches for her old lover Tomioka (Masayuki Mori), with whom she worked in Southeast Asia during the war. Reunited, the lovers renew their affair, though Tomioka tells Yukiko he cannot leave his ailing wife. She sacrifices her health and happiness pursuing him while he, a typically weak Naruse male, vacillates, their turbulent relationship reaching its culmination amid dense rainforests on the island of Yakushima. The acme of Naruse's masterfully austere style — as Miguel Marías has pointed out, the two central characters are adrift and in constant motion, but Naruse shoots their movements with travelling shots so imperceptible that all seems fixed, immobile — Floating Clouds "was a special case among Takamine's performances and among Naruse's films[:] [i]n the obituaries for Takamine in Japan, it was sometimes the only Naruse film mentioned" (Chris Fujiwara).