Floating Clouds is set in the dissolution of Japanese society after the war. Yukiko wanders figuratively and literally through a devastated Tokyo searching for a means of existence and comfort. At all turns, she is manipulated by men and forced to submit to their manipulations when she is unable to support herself.
Returning to Tokyo at the end of the war, Yukiko tries to get a number of jobs but none of her attempts are successful. As a result she turns to prostitution, catering to American occupation forces.
During this time a number of men, including her brother-in-law and her former lover Tomioka, come forward to help her, but their generosity is only a mask for their sexual desires. Eventually Tomioka's wife dies and he takes Yukiko to an island where he is to begin a new job.
Their happiness is forestalled when Yukiko, sorely tried by her life, falls ill and dies.