Naruse’s “Floating Clouds”/”Ukigumo”

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Though not shown, adultery was clearly going on in “Late Chrysanthemums,” and was even more central to Naruse’s plodding 1955 “Floating Clouds” (Ukigumo) in which Takime Hideko suffers through more than two hours as the would-be/sometimes lover of Tomioka (Mori Masayuki [the husband in “Rashômon“]). He had left his wife in Japan and was receptive to Yukiko (Takime) in wartime Indochina (stationed with the forestry service at Dala), but returned to (and did not divorce) his wife after they were repatriated in 1946.

While they are dallying (some time, I think some years) later at a resort hotel, he takes up (arguably, he is seduced by) a younger married woman (Okada Mariko), who is eventually slain by her outraged husband (Yamagata Isao, a familiar face if not name).

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Shot by Masai Tamai (who also shot “Floating Chrysanthemums” and “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” for Naruse, but is better known for shooting Godzilla movies), the melodrama ends on Yakashima, a remote island south of Kyushu, where Tomioka takes up a job back with the Forestry Ministry. The gravely ill Yukiko insists on going along and dies alone while Tomioka is out in (up in) the forest.

I think that Yukiko and Tomioka are buffeted by the politico-economic gales of Japan of the 1940s and 50s, rather than “floating.” She is kicked around, surviving in postwar Tokyo by having an affair with a GI bound to go home (Roy James). She nearly dies from an abortion and is unable to move on from her wartime romance. She spends some time with a religious charlatan, Iba, whose money she eventually steals and offers Tomioka (whose wife has died).

Takime is much whinier than she was in Mizoguchi and Kinoshita movies in which she also suffered, but more in stoic silence. Her character does not fight as such Hollywood contemporaries as Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, or Bette Davis would (more Jane Wyman?). “Floating Clouds” is very pessimistic about moving on from Japan’s defeat (in contrast with Kurosawa’s “l”). Some see “Floating Clouds” as languid; I see it as droopy. It was Naruse’s best box office movie in Japan, according to Audie Bock. Many sympathize with the beautiful, suffering Takime; I just want to shake her.

The musical score is annoyingly driven and “Auld Lang Syne” recurs (instrumental rather than with its Japanese lyrics) in a protracted scene of the ferry leaving Kagoshima.

The novel on which “Floating Clouds’ was based was written by Hayashi Fumiko, whose work had also been the source of Naruse’s “Late Chrysanthemums” the year before, Naruse’s 1951 “Repast”/”Meshi,” 1952”Inazuma”,” 1953 “Wife”/”Tsuma,” and 1962 (Hôrô-ki”/”A Wanderer’s Notebook” (with Takime playing the author; she had starred in two of the earlier Hayashi/Naruse movies and her sister starred in another of them). (At least the titles are short!)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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