Floating Clouds

Four years before Alain Resnais made Hiroshima mon amour, Naruse created this similarly haunting elegy to memory and love and the impossibility of their reconciliation amid the rubble of postwar Tokyo. Fukiko (Hideko Takamine) seeks to rekindle a wartime affair with Kengo (Masayuki Mori); lost in her memories of Indochina, where Kengo was a forester and she a typist, Yukiko is, literally and figuratively, one of the war's “helpless repatriates.” Kengo, meanwhile, relentlessly pursues his own interests while keeping her hooked in his sights. The relationship is an eternal return (again, predicting Resnais). This epic melodrama on its surface is the anti-Naruse-the flashbacks to a sultry Indochina; murder, theft, graft, rape, and an abortion; the Camille-like heroine. And maybe it is the film's emotional chiaroscuro to match the visuals that made it consistently voted one of the greatest of all Japanese films. But it is more likely that in its pitch-perfect depiction of its moment, and the idea that “things can't be the same after a war,” Japanese viewers saw their exploded reality understood.

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