Thursday, March 09, 2006

Floating Clouds

Director: Mikio Naruse
Length: 122 min.
Country: Japan
Format: 35mm
Date Viewed: 26 February

Floating Clouds is widely considered to be Naruse's masterpiece. It's a good film, to be sure, but I think it is easily bested by the excellent When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Floating Clouds begins with a flawless first act; the cinematography, editing, sound, music and acting all work together flawlessly, jumping between present and some four years earlier with match cuts every bit as awe-inspiring and revealing as the infamous bone-to-spaceship edit in Kubrick's 2001. Some twenty minutes in I began to think that perhaps this was Naruse's masterpiece, but after the first act, the film becomes disappointingly standard in its technical side, betraying the first act and revealing it as a hook that does nothing more than perfectly comply with Sam Fuller's rule that films need openings so technically and emotionally perfect that they induce erections.

The acting remains strong throughout (another knockout performance by the fantastic Hideko Takamine) and the story and script are generally solid, but as the style mellows, the film becomes - dare I say - a little bit boring. It's a full two hours and every minute after minute thirty is felt, and by the end it becomes clear that some twenty minutes could have been easily removed from Yukiko's (Takamine) ping-pong like flights to and from the men in her life.

Still, it is a good movie, and is filled throughout with small shots that initially seem throwaway until looked at more closely when deep or witty symbolism is revealed. Take, for instance, a wonderful shot that occurs at about the end of the third act after the murder of a certain young woman. After Yukiko leaves Kengo's (Masayuki Mori) apartment, we see three children playing in the foreground. We've seen these kids before but the camera lingers on them with Yukiko in the background, looking emotionally lost. The kids begin playing house. As the shot is curiously held, it hits us that they represent the characters of the film as essentially children in adult bodies, playing adult roles, but not getting it quite right. The adults in the film are every bit as emotionally immature and confused about the world as children are; a result, perhaps, of the famously repressed society they were born into, and certainly a result from the recent and vicious loss of a World War.


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