Being a bit of a nerd, I’ve always been a fan of Japanese culture, and Japanese film has aided me quite well in that regard; especially films like this one. Ugetsu, along with Rashomon, is generally viewed as one of the films to open Japanese cinema to the wider Western audience, and it’s not hard to see why; this is a damn fine film, regardless of its language or culture, which is always the best kind. Sure, being a period piece, it is quite heavy with the culture and history of Japan, but if you remove all the frills and lace and frosting, you’ll still find a well-constructed product here. The frills and lace and frosting are just bonus points.
Genjuro is a pottery maker in a small village circa roughly the 16th century or so, during the time of Shibata and his army conquests. Sure enough, the army comes a-knocking, and they are forced to flee with their remaining wares. When they are warned of pirates attacking water-bound vessels such as theirs, Genjuro insists his wife and son return to shore, while he, his assistant Tobei, and Tobei’s wife who refuses to return, continue to the marketplace. There, the stories of each of these main characters split; Genjuro finds himself at the house of Lady Wakasa, where he is betrothed to the lady despite several omens and portents that warn otherwise, Tobei leaves the others behind to try and achieve his dream of becoming a samurai, Tobei’s wife is separated running after her fleeing husband and falls on hard times (to say the least), and Genjuro’s wife and son find trouble of their own when they try and make it back to their small hometown. Mizoguchi’s filmmaking techniques have definitely improved a great deal from whatever he had in his palette for Zangiku Monogatari. Besides the equipment being better, there are a number of shots, compositions, and camera movements that made me take notice of the cinematography quite often, which was rather impressive. The production value also seems to be improved, though that may just be because this is a period piece, and as such the production value is a lot more readily apparent. I was also a better fan of the story of this one; it was a lot more accessible than Mizoguchi’s prior work, at least for me.
I was a huge fan of the sense of mysticality that this one treasured. Roger Ebert’s ‘Great Movies’ review of this one tells us that by the end, “aware that we have seen a fable, we also feel as if we have witnessed true lives and fates”, and that’s exactly what I liked so much about Ugetsu; how it merges the two, the sense of the real and the sense of the supernatural. That, to me, is one of the ways a film can truly transcend mere storytelling and enter that realm of magic that too few pictures really strive to enter. I can pretty easily see how this made the list, and I can say with a good amount of confirmation that this is definitely one you should make the time to see, if you get the chance to. It’s a great story, told in a great way, and it leaves a lasting impact. Of the many things one can come to want from a film, that is definitely found there.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10