Ugetsu (1953)

The spirit world has been a source of polarizing contention throughout human history. The concepts of “spirits” and “ghosts” evoke multiple emotions, including fear, solace, apprehension, and peace. Certain drastic events in history may be associated with spirits, such as the Salem Witch Trials. Depending upon our beliefs, spirits’ presence and aura may serve to aid us in understanding and solidifying our own individual sense of self, as well as our connections with others and our surrounding environment. The Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life explores this idea, as well as the stunning 1953 Japanese medieval fantasy film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi named “Ugetsu Monogatari”.

The black-and-white film is set in the humble village of Nakanogo, where we follow the story of two couples. Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) create and sell beautiful pottery, supporting themselves and their adorable young son, Genichi (Ikio Sawamura). Tobei (Sakae Ozawa) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) operate a farm, whereby Tobei has immeasurable dreams of becoming a samurai. Amidst their perceived tranquility, there is impending and inevitable chaos in their village created by the army of Shibata Katsuie. This consequentially leads to separation, displacement, and abandonment of responsibilities. Tobei becomes relentless on his quest to become that of an oxymoronic figure who damaged his home and relationship, while Genjuro encounters a beautiful, wealthy woman of seeming nobility in the form of Lady Wasaka (Machiko Kyo).

The English translation of the title is “Tales of Moonlight and Rain”, as the ancient East Asian tales from which the story is based revolves around natural elements forewarning humans of the uncontrollable spiritual forces. The film has a splendid mystical quality reflecting the original tales, supported by smooth transitioning between fantasy and reality and occasional hazy cinematography. Furthermore, fairy tales are often disguised cautionary tales to their readers about indulgence, patriarchy, dishonesty, greed, and inevitable destruction if we become highly swept into an imaginary world at the expense of others’ well-beings. This film effortlessly exemplifies and reinforces these themes, additionally resonating with audiences post-WWII in the aftermath of worldwide exploitation of power. “Ugetsu” is a pertinent reminder that our commitment to family, friends, and our communities is the glue which allows us to remain steadfast in the face of outside challenges which threaten our unique essence.

ugetsu_monogatari_1

I do not own the above image.

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6 thoughts on “Ugetsu (1953)

  1. A good choice and a thoughtful review. I’ve just discovered Mizoguchi’s films, after having been a longtime fan of Kurosawa and have seen Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu and Sanjo the Bailiff in the last year. They’re both wonderful films, looking at people’s struggle to maintain their humanity and relationships in difficult times, when life and limb are threatened by not only bandits and pillaging armies, but by supernatural forces (in the case of Ugetsu) and autocratic leaders (in the case of Sanjo), and more so, by people losing track of what is really important in life and chasing money or fame too recklessly. Both films make TSPDT’s top 100 films of all time (see http://www.theyshootpictures.com/gf1000_all1000films_table.php )

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sansho, not Sanjo! It’s funny how the bailiff is not actually the main character of the film. It’s a very beautiful film, I think perhaps better than Ugetsu, though I saw Sansho first and I find that tends to put an extra glow on things – often the first time you see a director or actor they have a bigger effect on you. Or is it just me? Quite often I find my favourite film or album or book by an artist ends up being my favourite. Not always, but more often than you’d expect statistically. Cheers

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey! I also like that the bailiff is not the main character, but his actions influence the outcomes of so many in the film. I absolutely ADORE Ugetsu. I love the dreamlike quality of it, and the lessons learned.

        I also agree with you about the impact of a director/actor on the first film you see by them. However, there have been some films that were not the first I saw by a director (for example, Ikiru, Through a Glass Darkly) that ended up being my favourites by those directors.

        Liked by 1 person

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