CAPSULE: THE TALE OF THE FLOATING WORLD (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Alain Escalle

FEATURING: Yûko Nakamura, Ryôya Kobayashi, Kakuya Ohashi

PLOT: A surrealistic montage set in motion by a tidal wave and incorporating a samurai battle.

Still from The Tale of the Floating World (2001)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Simply put, length. Floating World is a tidal wave of creativity, but at a little less 1/3 the running time it would need to be at least three times as notable or weird to take a slot on the List away from a full-fledged feature film.

COMMENTS: Although organized around the concept of a remembrances of Japan’s past as dreamed by a survivor of Hirsohima (we gathered this from the director’s notes, and presume it’s explained by the narrator’s brief untranslated comments that start the film), Floating World works on a vaguer level as a surreal tribute to European Japanophilia. Nipponese iconography—cranes, geishas, samurai—suffuses the film like sunlight through a rice paper print. A scene of a robed woman stumbling through a snowbound forest looks like a visual quotation from Kwaidan. Plenty of strangeness accompanies us in our journey though this dream of the Rising Sun: calligraphic characters turn into ants and crawls off the page during an eclipse, ashen nude zombies dance, and a samurai duel with flashing blades in a watercolor blur. The circa 2001 CGI is cheap and clunky looking: the aqua tsunami looks painted on the film, for example, and a sinking Buddha head is obviously superimposed on a separate shot of brackish water. Given the context you could hardly say the unreality of the imagery counts as a negative, however; the shots work exquisitely as a series of stills. Floating World works both as a demo reel for director Escalle’s visual effects skills and as an art installation of its own. Cécile Le Prado’s ornamental Oriental score contributes to the stony feeling of smoking opium while staring at a Japanese woodcutting hung on the wall.

The title refers to the Japanese concept of the “Floating World”—a hedonistic, secular world of fleeting pleasures and beauty for its own sake exemplified by geishas and kabuki theater—which flourished in the classical Edo period. “Ukiyo-e” or “pictures of the floating world” were a genre of woodcuttings depicting scenes of Edo-era Japan. The 18th century novelist Asai Ryō wrote a work entitled “Tales of the Floating World” about a Buddhist monk who finds enlightenment through debauchery. Dating back to Impressionism, French artists have had such a longstanding infatuation with Ukiyo-e that it’s given birth to a subgenre of painting known as “Japonisme.”

CONTENT WARNING: The Tale of the Floating World contains (tastefully presented) sex and nudity, and parts would not be considered “safe for work.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

No reviews located.

(This movie was nominated for review by Irene, who cited the film’s synopsis: “An evocative and surrealistic view of Japan and the atomic bomb. An imaginary story, both cruel and childlike.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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