Floating Clouds [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (1st July 2024).
The Film

"Floating Clouds" 「浮雲」 (1955)

Following the end of WWII, Yukiko (played by Hideko Takamine) returns to Japan from Indochina, where she was working as a secretary for the colonizing Japanese government. She first goes to the home of Kengo (played by Masayuki Mori) who worked with her in Indochina. Though he was married at the time, the two had an affair during their time overseas, but upon returning to Japan, he was obligated to take care of his wife who had become ill. Yukiko’s prospects in the postwar country is limited, as is for Kengo who is also finding it difficult with a sickly wife to take care of and not having a steady job. Their lives move in separate directions, yet they are continuously drawn back to each other, looking to find the spark they had. But timing is not on their side...

Famed writer and journalist Fumiko Hayashi started publishing the dramatic postwar story of "Ukigumo" in serialized form from November 1949 and concluding in April of 1951. Her fictional work on many occasions focused on single progressive women and their difficult relationships, and while "Ukigumo" falls into that category, it is a much more downbeat and pessimistic tone in comparison to some of her other works. "Ukigumo" turned out to be one of Hayashi's final completed works, as the workaholic writer passed away on June 28th, 1951 at the young age of 47 from a heart attack. A number of her works were adapted to screen, and some of the most memorable and most acclaimed were by director Mikio Naruse, who adapted six of the writer's works for screen, with "Repast" (1951), "Lightning" (1952), "Wife" (1953), "Late Chrysanthemums" (1954), "Drifting" (1962), and the adaptation of "Ukigumo" which translates as "Floating Clouds" in 1955.

The story opens with Yukiko's repatriation, arriving on a packed boat of people with the barest of minimum in necessities. In comparison to her time working in Indochina for the Japanese government where she lived and worked in lavish tropical conditions and wore fashionable and fancy clothes in comfort, she is now in a country that is ravaged by war with no money or credentials to speak of. She does not have family to return to, as family ties became strained after her brother-in-law Sugio (played by Isao Yamagata) raped her on multiple occasions while they were living together in the past. While it might seem absurd that the victim is the one that had to sever ties with the family, it frustratingly was and still is a norm in some societies. There is a sequence in which she runs into Sugio and their conversation scene is an uncomfortable one due to their circumstances, and the quick edits to the rapes in flashback are quite jarring to watch. Though in conversation, Yukiko is fighting frustration, while also showing her strength that she is stronger, moving on, and never letting it happen again, as well as telling him that she stole a lot of his stuff as revenge.

But it's her complicated relationship with Kengo that is the focus of the story. The flashbacks show that the start of their romantic relationship was not necessarily love at first sight. The married Kengo is quick to tease her and look down at her, which is both because he is in authority in working position, as well as a slight way of flirting. Their full romance in the tropics is not fully shown or detailed, though it is certain that they looked to continue their time together when they returned to Japan, and that would mean Kengo having to leave his wife. When Yukiko visits his home in war torn Tokyo, he does not look entirely happy to see her, as if she was a new burden to his troubled situation. He lacks the authority he used to have as he returned as a jobless civilian, in addition to having to care for a now sickly wife. His direction is to not continue a relationship with the girl he fell in love with overseas, but for her it develops a new challenge of somehow surviving on her own.

The stars never align completely with Yukiko and Kengo. Once he is ready to see her again to rekindle their romance, she has developed a relationship with an American soldier who is bringing many American gifts for her comfort and treating her well. In fact, he shows her respect and seemingly treats her well, despite his broken Japanese and her limited English. At one point Yukiko and Kengo try to restart what they had at a hot spring where they meet bar owner Mr. Mukai (played by Daisuke Kato) and his much younger wife Osei (played by Mariko Okada), who claims that time was on their side for a fatefully wonderful marriage, Osei doesn't seem too pleased with her decision to marry him. Kengo's womanizing instincts look towards Osei rather than Yukiko as a girl worth saving, and more complex issues face the future for everyone involved. Yet Yukiko continues to have her heart set on Kengo. Even though he is a cheater, even though he does not show her respect, even if there are more deserving men elsewhere, what is it that Yukiko sees in him that makes her yearn for his love? The story doesn't analyze the whys and why nots, as it is a universal emotional thought found in many unsteady relationships, with one trying to tame a wild creature in a motherly method. It doesn't give inner monologues of Yukiko on what she loves about Kengo, or what motivates Kengo to keep going back and forth on his decisions.

Note that the unnamed character of the American soldier who develops a relationship with Yukiko was played by Roy James. Though the scenes with the character are very limited with only a few words of broken Japanese being spoken, it's interesting to note that this was the first appearance in a film by James, who became one of the most recognizable faces and voices in Japanese media for the following decades. Born Abdul Hannan Safa (Габделхәннан Сафа) on March 29th, 1929 in Tokyo, Japan, he was of Tatar descent and Turkish by nationality, the son of Ainan Muhammad Safa, who fought with the Turkish military against the Soviets during WWI and immigrated to Japan after the end of the war. Abdul Hannan Safa grew up in a Muslim household as father Ainan became a cleric at a Tokyo mosque, but attended Japanese schools for his upbringing and grew up in Tokyo, including during the difficult time of WWII when many foreign countries including Turkey became enemies of Japan. That lead to harsh internment camp life for many foreigners living in the country including the Safa family. After the war, Abdul took up judo and boxing and was given the nickname "Straight Roy" for the ring. In 1953, his half Japanese university friend E.H. Erick entered the entertainment business, and suggested Abdul to do the same. He chose the name "Roy H. James" and started work as a theater MC due to his eloquent radio friendly voice, and his first role in acting was in "Floating Clouds", ironically as a person who spoke badly broken Japanese, as he passed as a Caucasian with his complexion and looks. (There is information that both he and Erick appeared uncredited in director Akira Kurosawa's "Sanshiro Sugata Part 2" in 1945 when they were teenagers, though this is not fully confirmed.) Over the years, he appeared in only a few films in minimal roles, but he kept extremely busy on Japanese radio as well as in the new medium of television. In a rare case at the time of foreigners in the entertainment world, he hosted game shows, appeared in commercials, hosted sports news programs, presented and interviewed on music and variety shows over the next few decades, appearing on basically every channel. As he had good but not fluent English speaking skills, he was also able to interview a number of foreign guests that visited the country for television programs and other events. In 1971 he became a Japanese citizen, and in 1975 he married Atsuko Yuasa, a childhood friend of writer Yukio Mishima and the person who inspired Mishima's novel "Kyoko's Room". In 1982, he took a break from working due to complications with laryngeal cancer. Unfortunately he passed away on December 29th, 1982 at the age of 53. He may not be well known outside of the country he called home, but he was a groundbreaking and influential figure in the largely homogenous Japanese entertainment world, bridging cultural gaps for the twentieth century.

Director Mikio Naruse was known for his melodramas and having strong female characters in lead roles, including roles by Takamine who starred in an impressive 17 feature films directed by Naruse from 1940 to 1966. But Yukiko was not as strong minded as many of the other female characters she had played. She has her flaws, and her greatest flaw is her heart that is tugged by a figure that is not the best match for her. But she is stuck in the past, longing for what she felt and romantic nostalgia is a difficult thing to leave alone. The setting of postwar struggle makes it even worse as no matter where she looks, there is nothing close to matching the lavish happiness she felt overseas those years ago. Naruse wonderfully directs the actors in the difficult situations, though there are some humorous segments to be found, in contrast to even moments of shock. As a whole the story is quite bleak and the ending is not necessarily a happy one. It might sound odd that the film was a major success and became one of the director's most popular films, though it was released in the shadow of the war and dealt with truly realistic issues that many faced at the time, while also focusing on a melodrama of a couple that could have been something wonderful, but circumstances led them elsewhere. The film was released by Toho in Japan on January 15th, 1955. In addition to being a favorite for audiences, it was also a critical hit, winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress at the 1956 Kinema Junpo Awards, winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress at the 1956 Mainichi Film Concours, the 1956 Blue Ribbon Award for Best Director. It also ranked at #1 on Kinema Junpo's list of top films of the year, and has consistently been voted as one of the best Japanese films of all time in numerous publications. Filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu even stated that there were two films he could have never made anywhere as great, and they were "Sisters of the Gion" by Kenji Mizoguchi and "Floating Clouds", holding them at the highest regard. Akira Kurosawa also praised the film extremely highly, calling it one of his favorites. In 1980 there was talk of a remake of the film with Sayuri Yoshinaga and Yusaku Matsuda in the leads, though Yoshinaga stated that she felt she could never come close to the performance of Takamine in the 1955 adaptation, and the remake was never produced. "Floating Clouds" still stands high as a template of Japanese melodramas, though its bleak setting and sometimes unlikeable characters can be uncomfortable. But the emotional draw is still as powerful as it ever was.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from a 4K restoration completed by Toho in 2016. Detailed information on the source material or the process of the restoration is not specified. The black and white image looks absolutely wonderful with excellent greyscale, showcasing the brightness in the atmosphere of the flashback scenes as well as the darker tones of the present periods. Damage marks have been removed for a spotless image that is free of speckles and scratches, while film grain is kept intact. The image is stable without issues of wobble or warping, looking absolutely perfect. A wonderful restoration by Toho and a great transfer by the BFI.

The film's runtime is 123:32.


Japanese LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented uncompressed. Like the image, the sound has been remastered and is in very good condition considering the source. Voices and dialogue all sound very good, without issues of hiss or cracks, being well balanced against the music and effects throughout. Damaging noise has been removed for a clean sounding track, and while music may sound a bit low, it should be expected for the mono audio space. A fine sounding audio restoration here.

There are optional English subtitles in a white font that are well timed and easy to read. There was one point that Mr. Mukai says he misses the taste of "Mangosteen", but the English subtitles translate it as "Mango", which is a different fruit. Other than that, there are no other issues of grammar or spelling to speak of.


Audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin (2024)
This new and exclusive commentary has Martin discussing the film, from the use of framing for the characters, camera movements, Naruse's visual style, changes from the original novel and information about Hayashi's novel, the difficulties faced by people in postwar Japan, the editing choices, Naruse's career including his other adaptations of Hayashi's works, and much more. Martin doesn't spend too much time with biographical background information on the cast and crew, though he is able to put in a great amount of information for the full runtime. An excellent listen.
in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

Select-scene audio commentary by Freda Freiberg (2007) (10:27)
Frieberg gives a commentary over the scene in which Kengo visits Yukiko's place after she develops a relationship with the American soldier. She discusses the changing lifestyle with the American goods seen, about how the two's conversation and the consistent struggle between them, the soundtrack cue used, and the darker lighting of the sequence in comparison to the brighter scenes of the flashbacks to Indochina. Freiberg was a Melbourne based film historian, film critic and lecturer who specialized in Japanese cinema. She died in April 2024 at the age of 90 and this release is dedicated to her. Note this was originally recorded for the 2007 BFI DVD release of the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.37:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

"Mikio Naruse: Auteur as Salaryman" 2016 lecture by Catherine Russell (audio only, plays over the film) (72:59)
This lecture from 2016 at the BFI Southbank has Catherine Russell, professor of film studies at Concordia University and writer of "The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity" (2008) discussing about Naruse and his films. Topics included are his cinematic style, his characters, subject matters, the treatment of women, reflections of Japanese society and its changes, illustrated with film clips. This is an audio only recording, so the film clips are not shown and are skipped over, with the audio playing as an alternate audio track over the film itself. Once the lecture ends, the audio reverts back to the film's audio.
in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"Freda Freiberg on Floating Clouds" 2007 featurette (10:18)
Freiberg discusses about the film with Adrian Martin in this featurette, being slightly atypical of Naruse's work in some respects, why it became Naruse's most popular film, comparisons to the original novel, the relationships that Yukiko has, and more. Note this was originally recorded for the 2007 BFI DVD release of the film.
in 1080i60 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

"Paul Willemen on Floating Clouds" 2007 featurette (7:07)
Belgian-born British professor, author and essayist Paul Willemen talks about the film, with detail on the Yukiko character, the sexual desires of the leads, the theme of the couple being out of sync and more. Willemen passed away on May 13th, 2012 at the age of 67 and this release is also dedicated to him. Note this was originally recorded for the 2007 BFI DVD release of the film.
in 1080i60 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

A 28 page booklet is included for the first pressing. First is the essay "Lovers Adrift in a Defeated Nation" by Catherine Russell, which looks at the theme of the film, its setting, and the characters. The next essay is "The Comings and Goings of Mikio Naruse" by Adrian Martin on the director, which was originally available in the BFI DVD boxset's booklet. This is followed by "The Materialist Ethic of Mikio Naruse" by Freda Freiberg, which looks at the director's career. This was also in the booklet of the BFI DVD boxset, and was originally published in Senses of Cinema in April 2002. There are also full film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.

The film was first released on DVD in Japan by Toho in 2005 as a standalone disc as well as part of the "Mikio Naruse: Masterworks 1" boxset, with no extras. It was released in 2007 in the UK by the BFI as part of their 3-film "Mikio Naruse Collection", with the scene commentary by Freiberg and the interviews with Freiberg and Willemen. The film was first released on Blu-ray in Japan by Toho in 2023, which included 55 minutes of extras with the documentary "Mikio Naruse and Art - Satoshi Nakeda's Artwork" and a stills gallery. The BFI's Blu-ray release does not include the documentary, but has all the previous BFI DVD extras plus two new exclusives.

Notable clips:

A clip of the restored version of the film, courtesy of the BFI.

A visit to Naruse's family grave, shot by film critic Chris Fujiwara.

Nescafe commercial from 1965 featuring Roy James.

Roy James MCing and singing "Moonlight Bay".

Roy James interviewing Sammy Davis Jr. for television.

Japanese news report on Roy James' death.


"Floating Clouds" may be quite bleak, but it is an emotionally heart-wrenching melodrama with inner turmoil featuring excellent performances by Takamine and Mori in the leads as well as Naruse's direction. The BFI Blu-ray has a great transfer of the 4K restoration and includes both new and vintage extras making this highly recommended.

Amazon UK link

BFI Shop link

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it and amazon.es . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.