Ugetsu (1953) Poster


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magical and moving
notmicro2 May 2004
This holds a special place in my heart, and I still consider it to be absolutely one of the very greatest films ever made for adults. The work of a mature artist, it resonates with Buddhist practice, and is a profoundly moving tale of the suffering of the human condition, the violence of war, the possibilities of art uplifting the spirit, the possibilities of redemption of character. The closing scene is one of such deeply-felt compassion and understanding that it is almost frightening; it prefigures in a way the stunning and more personal close of the subsequent Mizoguchi film "Sansho the Baliff".

On a lighter level, it is an amusingly sly allegory of the actual history of Japan for the 20 or so years prior to 1953, where in the end the women, embittered (or dead) as a result of their men's quixotic quest for military glory or war-profiteering, entreat them to give up their misguided and destructive dreams, settle down, and get back to their real responsibilities.

Which they did.

Originally available on LaserDisc.
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Songs and tales
Polaris_DiB1 March 2006
The movie starts out pretty uncomfortably, two peasants in 16th century Japan who dream of richness and glory so blindly, they can't even hear the pretty straight-forward protests of their loving wives who try to convince them that their happiness is fine at home. When one, a pottery smith, makes a small bundle selling his wares, they decide to make a much larger batch together and become rich.

Forced out of their homes by an approaching war and uncertain where to go, they take their wares to a thriving market place, where the second peasant's ambition to be a samurai divides them and causes all four characters, the two peasants and their wives, to be separated, all fending for themselves amongst the war and various classes differently.

At this point the film reverses itself and instead of being a pretty skin-deep, tragic bud of greed, it blooms into a beautiful and haunting tale of obsession and illusion. The two main stories of the peasants and their wives are opposite only in their imaged realism, where one peasant falls completely under the curse of an enchanting ghost and the other lies and steals his way to fame, only both of them are eventually knocked down from their own hubris and forced to finally awaken to what their wives have said all along.

It's quite exquisite, this movie, with its long takes and its lack of the usual constructs that make up messages of obsession and greed. Once it gets beyond the small, uncomfortable, claustrophobic world of the peasant's home, it becomes audaciously challenging and mysterious, so that the same small home becomes amazingly wonderful and comforting. The very essence of the movie is breathed into the emotions of the audience in very subtle ways, making a very unforgettable cinematic experience.

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A Film of Stunning Beauty and Emotional Depth
lwalsh8 January 2006
Having read much about this film, I thought I knew what to expect when I finally had the chance to see it. I was wrong; no amount of writing can convey the richness and impact of the images and the overall flow of the film-- which is why this commentary will be brief. Suffice it to say that I recommend this film wholeheartedly to anyone looking for cinematic poetry (though not, probably, to those who, misled by its being set during the Japanese Civil Wars, expect an action film).

Perhaps the most striking thing about the film is the camera-work; on a first viewing one is scarcely aware of it much of the time, but the camera is in constant motion, emblematic of the restlessness which pervades not only the era and the central characters but, by implication, all of human life (in this regard, it's a very Buddhist film). This movement is never gratuitous; when the scene demands little or no movement the camera stays still. Notice, though, how often the camera's movement enhances the emotional impact of the scene, especially in the famous panning shot (not, as occasionally described, a 360 degree shot) of the reunion near the end. Along with this is Mizoguchi's penchant for long takes, which seduce the viewer into the rhythm of the film without calling attention to themselves or to his cleverness as a director.

But these are technical comments which may or may not be helpful in focussing a viewer's attention; what really matters is the film itself as a whole. It is truly beautiful, and powerful in the unexpected way of great poetry. Technique and emotion, simplicity of means and complexity of effects, walk hand-in-hand here, and the result is remarkable in a way which film rarely attains.
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Spectral Morality Play Told with Finesse by a Japanese Master
Ed Uyeshima12 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is yet another superb addition to the Criterion Collection of the masterworks of Japanese cinema during the country's fruitful artistic period after WWII. Director Kenji Mizoguchi is not as well known as Akira Kurosawa, nor is he yet enjoying a renaissance like Yasujiro Ozu is now. However, he had a long, impressive career that stretched over four decades culminating in the 1950's with a handful of classic movies, the most famous being 1953's "Ugetsu monogatori (Tales of Moonlight and Rain)". Set in 16th-sentury Japan, it's a ghostly morality tale of two brothers, poor farmers who are both anxious to make their fortunes from the wartime activities surrounding them but via different means. The more focused Genjurô seeks his fortune through his homemade pottery which he sells in the bustling nearby town, and the younger Tobei's pipe dream is to become a samurai warrior.

After their village is pillaged, the brothers set off on a boat to the same town on a fog-laden lake leaving their suffering wives behind. There Genjurô meets a noblewoman named Lady Wakasa, who appreciates his artistry and falls in love with him. However, she turns out to be the ghost of a woman who never experienced love, and this realization puts Genjurô into a desperate situation since he decided to leave his devoted wife Miyagi to marry her, a decision that will turn on him with supreme irony at the end. On the other hand, Tobei achieves his desire to become a samurai warrior but through dubious means, at which point he discovers his wife Ohama has become a prostitute after being raped by warriors in his absence.

What Mizoguchi does remarkably well is interweave the two stories so that they reinforce and reflect upon each other seamlessly. He also avoids the pitfall of having the story pontificate upon the obvious morals of the story by not using archetypes but instead showing the realistic flaws in all the main characters. Without the use of special effects, the fantasy elements are not remotely contrived but rather emphasize the often nebulous difference between dreams versus reality, ambition versus happiness, and gratification versus fulfillment. The final spectral twist is a worthy precursor to "The Sixth Sense". Even more impressively, with the expert work of cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, Mizoguchi provides meticulous, often stunning tableaux to set his scenes, and his narrative is suffused with deep humanity even when the characters perform deplorable acts.

The legendary Machiko Kyô plays Lady Wakasa with an appropriately otherworldly manner, at first remote but then romantically infatuated and gradually desperate to redefine her destiny. However, it's the quartet of actors who play the two couples that make the deepest impressions. Masayuki Mori portrays Genjurô with passionate fury, and Sakae Ozawa makes the foolhardy Tobei at once deceitful and sympathetic. Kinuyo Tanaka (Japan's first female director) provides the right amount of stoic gentility as Miyagi, and Mitsuko Mito makes Ohama's degradation hauntingly memorable. For anyone interested in Japanese cinema or simply a great ghost story beautifully told, this is a must.
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A haunting, sublimely beautiful piece of cinema
drunk.jack4 March 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Set amidst a war-torn feudal Japan in the 16th century, this tells the tale of two peasants who yearn for success, one in terms of wealth, the other as a samurai warrior. Together they disregard the welfare of their families and follow their ambition, and learn the hard way the folly of their desires.

Mizoguchi is an exemplary film maker, often overshadowed by the attention received by Kurosawa. Ugetsu is the second of his films I have seen, following the exceptional Sansho Dayu, and possesses a quality that transends the sublime and enters richly lyrical territories. His compositions are beautiful; not a frame of film is wasted in depicting the characters and their surroundings with astonishing vividity. It is wholly justified for winning the Venice Film Festival's top prize in 1953.

The peasant who seeks wealth finds himself seduced by the ghost of a princess whose family home was wiped out, and who was resurrected by her nurse to give her the chance at love that she never experienced in life. His friend finds success as a samurai- not through any prowess or skill, but by luck- but he too finds his actions carry a duplicitous edge to them, as the fortunes of his wife are unfavourable, to say the least.

While much of the imagery is harsh; implicit rapes, murders, mass looting and deprivation of hard working peasants- the overall tone is far from defeatist. That was Mizoguchi's power, as evidenced in Sansho Dayu. He was not only one of cinema's greatest directors of women; in the case of Ugetsu Monogatari, he also captures the essence of the endurance of human love, transcending even death.

See it and be amazed.
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Saki from the Potter's Hands
tedg4 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
For my film project, I watch a lot of movies. Good and bad. Old, new; new as old, old as "timeless."

Nearly all of them take from me. Making art is hard work. Bad artists make you work harder, investing perhaps everything you have to pull something out of the experience. Many good artists challenge — on their terms — but the challenge by definition goes deep and involves risk. Sometimes I am wounded.

All this is possible. I can do this because I have a vanishingly small list of films that I know I can retreat to. It is a list that is getting smaller, because these are films I have never seen. Seeing a film for the first time is what it is all about for me; you have to have the mystery, the tension of expectation, the sheer fear. I reserve these films for special occasions. Once I make love to them, their power for this function I have saved them for vanishes.

I knew this film would clarify my cinematic soul. I knew that all the work would be done for me, and that I could put my trust in the hands of a master and let down all barriers. I would have the need to add nothing. I would be nourished.

I assume you know Mizoguchi. Together with Kurosawa and Ozu, they created an art form that reinvented the eye, that found a new way of working with the camera. The camera's grace and intelligence mattered. While the rest of the world was developing a more overt visual vocabulary, these men reinvented the craft. Kurosawa with layers. He is the most appreciated in the west because that layering is friendly to other developments as folds.

Ozu with the peace of delegated motion. The camera adds the frame only, for the world to compose itself in. Mizoguchi adapts both of these, putting his being into the slow calligraphic sweeps of the camera. He is the writer on bodies. He is the hand on the potter's wheel.

(Puts new meaning into "The Pillow Book," and the pottery scene in "Ghost.")

If you do not know the story, it actually matters here, as the plot is woven into the eye.

A man of two souls shown as brothers live(s) in a rural village, married to a woman of two souls. One brother is a skilled potter, the other a reluctant farmer who wishes fame. The potter is industrious, not artistic and he is interested in making money with many pots before external forces disrupt the peace.

(The money is connected to lovely dresses, in a complex emotional equation of savoring womanness as a matter of worth of soul.)

He works to create these many pots, but the world disrupts ahead of time, so he must leave them in the kiln — sure death. He and wife escape to the woods. Then a dream — ghost story kicks in. He miraculously finds the pots saved, and more lovely than before, upon being exhumed. The strokes of the pots are very literally transformed into the strokes of the film in an amazing sequence in a boat on a ghostly lake, surrounded by flowing inkfog. The wife is sent from the boat for safety.

What transpires is an encounter in two bodies with woman, sense and artistic achievement. It is "8 ½" but without the boobs, honking and whips. It is this filmmaker's baring of the sacrifices fate pressed on him in order for him to make what we experience. There is a sake cup that he made, of extraordinary beauty and overt ordinariness that he sent into the world and which finds him. Everything revolves around whether he must drink from it.

The tragic event here is that he does. We gain. He loses, everything. He loses everything to give us the clarity, the purity, the peace of a cinematic island of perfect form.

Put this on your list of movies, whatever that list is that comprise effective tools for life.

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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haunting, beautiful and eerie
pyamada23 January 2003
Ugetsu, based on a popular "fairy tale" in the Japanese folk tradition, is perhaps the greatest "ghost story" on film. Simple, direct, and beautiful in its visual style, one viewing of this movie will make you a fan for life. See it today, and hope that you can see it on the big screen soon. 10!
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the traditional Japanese ghost film~~~
holydevil9 June 2005
In Japan, due to its Buddhism and Shinto culture, the term Ghost is an description for evil of the spirits world. and the idea of spirits which dispatch from its physical body are describe as phamton. from the difference associate with these 2 terms we can understand that even in spirits there is description for the good and bad spirits. this is similar to the Chinese mythology for ghost. even if the spirits was wrongly accused, and coming back to human world for its revenge, this is still consider as an spirits rather than ghost, as it has its positive of motive and would not harm people who is not associate with his death. since spirits normally does not appear in the human world, and its appearance often associate with unfinished matter or grudge. which is the main characteristic for most of the Japanese film.

the most impressive Japanese ghost story is Ugetsu monogatari(1953), it was base on the novel with the same title. we can analysis the idea of Japanese ghost film via 2 aspect of the film.

Firstly, while Genjuro was selling pottery in the market, he was been order by Lady Wakasa and its nurse maid to send the good to their mansion personally, which was the starting point of ghostly love relationship.

By the hand of prestige cinema photographer, Kuzo Miyagawa, the mystic atmosphere, the trembling music of sanmise, the ghostly voice of men grudging, gives the mansion an appeal of a haunted mansion. The use of top view camera technique with the character Noh play like appeal,gives the scene much more mysterious, secluded, ghostly, euphoria aspect of the fantasy world. which above all explores the art of Japanese traditional beauty.although it is an black and white film, but Kuzo Miyagawa create an color of bewitch ghostly character on Lady Wakasa.

The very motive for the existence of Lady wakasa was to have a taste of love, as she was kill before she can understand what love is, after resurrect by the nursemaid, she have become and spirits that looking for the ideal man to love. that is why she put a spell on Genjuro. to love not to hurt.

The second aspect for Genjuro associate with spirits was at the end part of the movie, while He push open the cripple door of his home, he saw an empty house, yet after the camera return an image of the room, Miyagi, Genjuro's wife appear, who was setting beside the stove alone tailoring clothes, and waiting for his husband to eat and change into comfy kimono, Genjuro feel extremely tire after all the events therefore he quickly falls asleep, next morning, when the villager master realize he is return went into his home and explain the tragic of her wife. and the disappearance of his son, coincidentally, his son returns in the very moment.

The movie finish with a long shot as the kid playing beside his mothers grave while Genjuro praying, which symbolize Miyagi has finally saw the father and son reunited and now he is able to rest in peace, and fly to heaven.

The movie demonstrate the childish, stubbornness and foolishness of male. yet it purify the females character as loving and sincere, which demonstrate no scary or horrifying intention to the viewer when associate with ghost. infect we associate with the idea of gentleness, shyness of its character. the eternal serenity towards the love one can only be associate with ghostly figure in a time transcend world.
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Family, War, Greedy and Ghosts
Claudio Carvalho10 February 2010
In the beginning of the springtime in the period of the Japanese Civil Wars of the Sixteenth Century in Lake Biwa in the Province of Omi, the family man farmer and craftsman Genjurô (Masayuki Mori) travels to Nagahama to sell his wares and makes a small fortune. His neighbor Tobei (Sakae Ozawa) that is a fool man dreams on becoming a samurai, but he can not afford to buy the necessary outfit. The greedy Genjurô and Tobei work together manufacturing clay potteries, expecting to sell the pieces and enrich; however, their wives Miyage (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) are worried about the army of the cruel Shibata that is coming to their village and they warn their ambitious husbands. Their village is looted but the families flee and survive; Genjurô and Tobei decide to travel by boat with their wives and baby to sell the wares in a bigger town. When they meet another boat that was attacked by pirates, Genjurô decides to leave his wife and son on the bank of the river, promising to return in ten days. Genjurô, Tobei and Ohama raise a large amount but Tobei leaves his wife to buy the samurai outfit and seek fame and fortune. Meanwhile the female aristocratic Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyô) and her servant ask Genjurô to bring her shopping to her fancy Kutsuki House. Sooner Genjurô and Tobei discover the price they have to pay for their ambition.

"Ugetsu Monogatari" is the first movie that I have watched of Kenji Mizoguchi and I am impressed with this masterpiece. This supernatural story is very well constructed in a historic context of the Japanese Civil Wars of the Sengoku period, with two family dramas caused by the blindness of greed. This feature is supported by a magnificent cinematography in black and white, and the scene in the foggy lake is a piece of art. The performances are awesome, and the cast really seems to be living in the Sixteenth Century in Japan. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "Contos da Lua Vaga" ("Tales of the Vague Moon")
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A film of haunting beauty by the precursor of Kurosawa
Joseph Harder17 April 1999
This film used to make all the top ten lists for the greatest movies ever made. However, with the discovery of Ozu and the ( justified) cinematic canonization of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi has been been neglected. This is a pity, for he was one of the supreme masters of the cinema. Ugetsu Monogatari is one of the most beautiful explorations of the human spirit ever put on the screen. Rarely has black and white been used more beautifully, or the supernatural portrayed more convincingly. If Dreyer is the great "Protestant" of the cinema, and Bresson, Rossellini, and, it must said, Hitchcock and Ford, its great "Catholics', Mizoguchi is its greatest Buddhist.
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Haunting and beautiful
diogoal-28 July 2003
This was my first Mizoguchi movie, so perhaps I watched it a little with child´s eyes. I liked it very much - it´s more fast-paced than I would expect from Japanese filmmaking. Mizoguchi is indeed a visual poet, the visual composition of every sequence looks as have been carefully planned, with much more importance given to imagery rather than dialogue. "Ugetsu" main themes, I believe, are the submission of women on feudal Japan - the transformation of the lives of the wifes of the two pottery dealers is treated very handsomely, each one striving to lead a decent life after being abandoned by their husbands, but failing in the end. The boat scene, with the encounter of a dying man, is also very beautiful. It´s a major turning point in the film, similar to a scene in Kurosawa´s "Throne of Blood" (mist, swamp, incertainty...)
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black and white poetry
pg-1816 December 2000
Warning: Spoilers
This is a fine piece of Japanese filmmaking and I recommend it to everyone. It is filled with haunting moments and told in a pace modern filmmakers seldom use. I especially like the part during which one of the heroes has an affair with a beautiful noble lady who turns out to be not quite what we expect. Upon discovering this he decides to return to his wife and son. As he returns to his home at first it seems deserted but the camera pans around the room and now we see his wife sitting by the fireplace. A brilliant technical move making the scene a truly melancholic moment. The hero goes to sleep satisfied that everything is as it´s supposed to be, but awakens to a surprise.
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ecomcon-220 May 1999
I first saw this masterpiece in 1973 during a special retrospective of Japanese films on PBS hosted by the former US Ambassador to Japan, Edwin O. Reischauer. I was 18 at the time. Twenty-six years later this film still holds a special place in my heart (did you not fall in love with Machiko Kyo?). It also reminds me that Kurosawa's shadow has unfortunately obscured the works of Mizoguchi and Konichika (my apologies if I've misspelt the latter).

Before writing this comment I reviewed the voter history and was dismayed to discover that three people ranked this film 3 or less on a scale of 10. Did I miss some flaw in this film? I hope this isn't too opinionated, but if you don't love "Ugetsu" then perhaps you should avoid foreign films altogether.
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A beautiful exercise of eastern film-making
Trouter200015 August 2007
Ugetsu is a film that separates itself from both period pieces of its time and from Japanese film of any era. It neither has the ferocious, exiting energy that Kurosawa successfully utilized, nor the slow mundane nature that Ozu became known for. Rather it attempts (successfully) to give a drawn out, slightly surrealistic atmosphere that exhibits images of lingering beauty throughout its short length. What drew me into the film deepest was the usage of not style or substance (if that makes sense), but rather these images that remained on your mind long after the film was finished. A sabotaged boat drifting away in the fog with nothing but a dead man aboard, an enchantress' seduction of a naive peasant and a landscape dotted with danger and war, all make up some of the most beautiful images, that would not be out of place in a painting. They alone say more then most films do in their entire message.

The film nonetheless has some very impressive subject matter to its credit, dealing with war, greed and the line between reality and the spiritual world. Throughout the film we see two peasants progressively grow to lust for the riches of the world, Genjurô desires to sell his wares and become wealthy, while Tobei desires to be a samurai and have power. In time they both get to a point where this is a reality, where one of them fulfills what he desires, the other is led into a surrealistic haze by a demonic seductress. In the end the loss of what was important all along becomes apparent, and a message of humility becomes the films point.

Though it is not nearly as accessible a film as Kurosawa's period pieces of the same time, Ugetsu succeeds on a level that they do not. It brings an element of sheer beauty I have not been acquainted with by any Japanese director. The camera moves much slower as to give you a sense of your surroundings, to allow the film to become part of you. In doing this Mizoguchi distances some viewers, while at the same time bringing many to a level impossible with any other director (Eastern or Western). He successfully does what all great artists do, he makes his art truly great and therefore truly subjective.

There is not a lot I can further say about this beautiful film except that it is best taken on an image by image base with the real plot as a second consideration. When one has experienced the images the plot becomes more meaningful, and the result is one of the most beautiful films one will ever witness. I gave Kenji Mizoguchi's crowning achievement a deserving 9/10. Ugetsu is a beautiful flawless example of the cinema that I sincerely recommend.
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Cosmoeticadotcom22 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari), a 1953 film by Kenji Mizoguchi, which won the Venice Film Festival's top prize (the Silver Lion Award for Best Direction) that year, is one of the best films to ever deal with the subject of human desire, and not only the obvious sexual aspects of the emotion. While ostensibly it is labeled a ghost story, since its Japanese title means Tales Of The Pale And Silvery Moon After The Rain, the story is a complex one that hides behind its astonishingly simple narrative and revelation, and is based upon two tales from a 1776 book of tales by Ueda Akinari, and a third story from French writer Guy de Maupassant. Mizoguchi and screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda adapted elements from all three tales to create something new and relevant.

It follows the lives and desires of two couple who inhabit a small Japanese village during the 16th Century, when civil wars and ravaging bands of Samurai soldiered plundered the countryside near Lake Biwa in Omi province. The two male characters, who may be friends, or relatives, are Genjurô (Masayuki Mori), a farmer and master potter, and Tobei (Sakae Ozawa, aka Eitarô Ozawa). Tobei is a dimwit and the assistant potter to Genjurô, and he dreams of military glory as a samurai, but cannot even handle a sword properly. Genjurô has a wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and young son Genichi (Ikio Sawamura), and Tobei has a wife, as well. Her name is Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), and they bicker in a very Ralph and Alice Kramden sort of way, while Genjurô and Miyagi seem to have a more overtly stable and loving relationship.

Technically, this film is not as overtly sophisticated as Rashomon, yet it does not suffer from the great dramatic letdown that film does. Kazuo Miyagawa's black and white cinematography is outstanding, especially in the studio shots of the river and the ghostly lady's mansion. The seduction scene, where Lady Wakasa is dancing and singing, is oddly hypnotic, and one of the most surreal moments in the film. Much of the night scenes in the film remind me of Carl Theodor Dreyer's great Vampyr, a film with darker similarities to this one. Also, the camera is almost always moving, in this film. Very few things are static, and long takes dominate the film, with very few cuts, and then only when needed to jar the viewer for a reason. Thus, when the film ends showing us that little has changed in the valley beyond the village, we are left with a disjunct feeling between the apparent stasis of life in that time and place, and the great changes we've seen take place. That we never see the Lady, nor her retinue, nor Miyagi at film's close, portrayed in a Hollywood ghostly fashion, can confuse, a bit, upon a first viewing, but on a second viewing all becomes clear in this simple, but never simplistic, tale.

The actors are also uniformly good. Sakae, as Tobei, and Mitsuko as Ohama, are a delight, comically, and in rare dramatic moments. Machiko, as Lady Wakasa, shows dramatic improvement in just two years, as an actor, from her debut in Rashomon. Yet, the film really belongs to Kinuyo, as Miyagi, and the sublime Masayuki, as Genjurô. Masayuki was outstanding as the murdered husband in Rashomon, acting with his face alone. But, this role gives him drama and comedy, horror and befuddlement, and were it not for his name and the commentary of the film, I'd have had no idea the same actor played both roles, for he looks totally different as a peasant farmer than a samurai nobleman. One scene, before he is to go to the Lady's mansion, we see him looking at a fancy kimono, and he imagines Miyagi looking at it, even though we know she cares little for such things. The look in Genjurô's eyes, contrasted with the reality we know, says more of the insecurities males feel in sexual relationships than many whole films devoted to the subject have.

While the film is in no way a modern psychological portrait of the sort Ingmar Bergman would later specialize in, a viewer is left with a firm idea of who all these characters were, simply by how their behavior is the same, yet parallaxed, by the contrast between the early scenes, and later ones that are recapitulative. Mizoguchi also made a bit of a career specialty in focusing on the lives of women, and even though the two male characters are the ostensible leads, the female characters shoulder much of the narrative and dramatic load, and do so consummately well. Ugetsu is a great film, made by an artist at his peak, and even with the misgivings its creator had, it stands the test of time immaculately.
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The illusionary world
chaos-rampant8 October 2011
You may read elsewhere about the film's (and the filmmaker's) boundless humanism, the graceful cinematography, the classical composition; platitudes about these abound on the web, instead I want to direct your attention elsewhere.

It's a really really simple film if we analyze academically - yet, always so curiously, so amusingly, it's these academical treatises that rumble on endlessly with their dry, boring 'insights' about the mise-en-scene. But a film handled with the elegance and competence of someone who knows about more than filmmaking; who just happens to be able to express himself in film, and so can posit us inside the film in richer ways than simply cinematic.

What I mean is this: on the surface this is one of the narratives on bad karma the Japanese were so fond of sharing with themselves, an older story from the late 18th century dressed up in film material. It is about two men who sow the seeds of their own undoing by pursuing status and wealth. Civil war tears the land, they exploit this to their advantage. One of them is merely a pompous buffoon, and through cowardice he gets to be a samurai - its own comment on the privileged caste. His punishment is ordinary, a simple irony. But the other, the sadder loss of the two, is a skilled artisan; a potter who could enrich lives by giving but instead devotes himself to accumulating. It is he who is granted a supernatural, extraordinary vision to remind him how far he has strayed. Ghosts appear to redress the balance, signifiers of a troubled soul.

That's all unexceptionally fine, but for me the film's power rests elsewhere. The Japanese have given us since much better treatises on karma, Straits of Hunger and Sword of Doom from the following decade are two of them.

We may be inclined to rest our interpretation here with a passing comment on great camera-work, because all of this is more or less readily available to us, it makes some immediate sense. The closest type of film we have to this here in the West is film noir, and we have seen plenty of that already that this may even seem outdated; but noir was generally a semi-conscious product, made by artists who could feel nagging them inside the anxieties of a new life in the city but not quite put to words. So we got feverish dreams intuited from a restless sleep.

This is different. It comes from a long rich tradition of landscape painting, where the words (or images) are the expression of what has already been embodied. The painter impregnated with the outer images of everyday nature, reconstitutes reality on his scroll as the landscape of that interior heart-mind where the universe of myriad images dwells.

In other words: Hokusai did not paint Mt. Fuji because he thought it would look good, rather it looked good because he was meditating with his brush on the source of his life-world. Being able to see from inside, the result flowed out effortlessly, it floated on paper. So even though the landscapes are shown to be cascading up and down in forceful motions, our gaze is directed to the center of a profound repose that is immanent in all. The image itself is both the act of meditational devotion, and for us on the other end the space of contemplation.

So if we put Ugetsu to words it may seem pedantic, laborious. Yes, the pursuit of status and wealth is shown to be disastrous, but didn't we know already? Yes, eventually the soul is left with a lesson in humility, the acceptance of suffering and hard work - a work that unconditionally gives back, one of extraordinary humanity now. But if instead we contemplate on these notions using images the filmmaker has used to contemplate himself in painting them?

Look for the scene on a boat, we lose our characters from sight as they lose sight of themselves. Or later near the end, how the emptiness resonates when one of them sees for the first time the ruins of the illusionary world he has inhabited. It's a stunning accomplishment by a skilled artisan; we are always the Outer self, ignorant, desiring, our gaze deceived by folly like theirs, but eventually awakened when they are.

Ignore the voice-over that closes the film, it's a misstep and not a cinematic device. Allow this to sink deeper. When our potter is confronted with supernatural malice, temple bells chime in the soundtrack their reminder of Buddhist stillness in the face of mishap.
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What else can be said?
Ore-Sama29 July 2016
Along with Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", "Ugetsu" was responsible for breaking Japanese cinema out of it's native land. The story is set during a civil war, where a farmer lives happily with his wife and son, as well as a friend who dreams of leaving his impoverished state to become a samurai. After finding some success, exploiting the war to make a grand profit, their greed brings them away from their wives: one into realizing his samurai ambitions, the other to the home of a pale beauty.

Much has been said of the film's visual splendor. One can see here the beginnings of the sort of imagery that dominates your typical studio ghibli film, only much more bombastic. For my part, I prefer Mizoguchi's, in comparison, understated approach. Maybe not as impressive initially, but it lingers in the mind for much longer. There's really not any still shorts that do justice to the film's imagery, one must see the movements of the camera to appreciate what's on the screen. Even the most simple of moments seem more potent under Mizoguchi's proverbial eye. Adding to that is the music, which is almost surreal in how it conveys both sorrow and the fantastic.

If the emphasis on visual and sounds is making it seem like Ugetsu is just a pretty but vacuous spectacle, it absolutely is not. The technical prowess only underlies the beauty of the story. On paper, the story and characters are very simple. What makes the characters realized are the incredible performances. The most powerful moments in the movie are expressed through the face. Despite the short running time giving little time to establish the character's relations, there is such a genuine chemistry among them that the significance of these bonds isn't taken for granted as it may often be in these sorts of films. Make no mistake, Genjuro loves his family, even if he isn't always appreciative. One small but wonderful moment is when he's shopping for a yukata for her, and sees an image of her holding one over herself. Genjuro's journey is the main one and the heart of the movie, with Tobei's darkly comical journey as much more of a side story.

and one can't talk about Ugetsu without mention of it's ending. I won't spoil but I will say it ranks alongside another Mizoguchi masterpierce, "Sansho the Baliff", as one of the greatest, most powerful endings to a film. and it is this ending wherein one, perhaps like Genjuro himself, takes more notice of the little moments that suddenly take much more significance.

This is the only film where, upon first viewing, I watched it again within 24 hours. The first time I was sad but overwhelmed, like I wasn't sure I liked it except for the ending. But repeat viewings have convinced me that there's an elusiveness to this movie: as much as I've said, I still feel like I don't fully understand the power this film has.

Absolutely recommended.
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War Changes People !!!
avik-basu18899 October 2015
'Ugetsu' is a Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi based on stories in Ueda Akinari's book titled Ugetsu Monogatari. At the basic level, this is a story about survival during the Japanese Civil Wars in the late 16th century. The film follows two married couples namely Genjurō and Miyagi, Tōbei and Ohama of the Ōmi Province. They get uprooted along with a lot of other families when their village gets attacked by Shibata Katsuie's army. Genjurō being a potter decides to go to Ōmizo to sell his wares to earn money. He goes to Ōmizo with Tōbei and Ohama while Miyagi decides to stay back and take care of Genichi(Miyagi and Genjurō's son). While in Ōmizo, Genjurō gets attracted to the mysterious and enigmatic Lady Wakasa and becomes overwhelmed by his interest in her, and Tōbei, who was always a bit of a delusional dimwit, gets more and more inclined towards living the life of a samurai and show-off his bravery and strength. Tōbei ends up seeking out Samurai soldiers leaving his wife Ohama alone and helpless during chaotic wartime.

Along with 'Rashomon', 'Ugetsu' is considered by many critics to be the film that opened doors for Japanese cinema in the western world and gave the cinema in Japan a global exposure. Like 'Rashomon', this film was also based on Japanese folk tales, but Mizoguchi's humanist filmmaking made it relevant for the 1950s and its relevance hasn't waned at all in the last 50 years. 'Ugetsu' belonged to a whole line of films that got released after WWII along with 'Rashomon', 'The Bicycle Thief', 'The Planes are Flying', 'Ivan's Childhood', etc. which looked at war in a critical way instead of glorifying. They critiqued the very purpose of war by brutally depicting its devastating consequences. Although 'Ugetsu' is set in 16th century Japan during the Japanese Civil War, for me it clearly is an allegory for Japanese society during WWII and the allegory here is a lit bit more overt and obvious than the same in 'Rashomon'.

This can surely be seen as a feminist film. We see the men fall prey to puerile ambitions and greed, while the women are left helpless and asked to fend for themselves during a time of war when they are more prone to danger and harm with ravenous and wild warriors running around everywhere. But the women in the film do what they have to do without showing any fear and without accepting defeat. After watching this film, I don't think it is possible for anyone to not fall completely in love with the character of Miyagi. She has unconditional love for her husband Genjurō and their son Genichi. She does whatever she has to, to make sure her son survives under difficult, harsh conditions, when Genjurō was spending time with Lady Wasaka. This film shows the hopeless nature of gender inequality that existed in medieval Japan and how women were extremely vulnerable.

The film as I mentioned before is an allegory for the Japanese society and the Japanese political system in the WWII era. Like Tōbei, some men are too drawn to the idea of power and will go to any lengths to prove to others that they are powerful by engaging in pointless fights. Genjurō represents those people who being led by unrestricted greed want to utilise war in their own way by making use of people's troubles to fill up their pockets. Lady Wasaka is very mysterious and interesting character. She is a very Mephistopheles- like character who lures Genjurō into her world by promising him eternal happiness, wealth and love. The Faust-esque Genjurō falls for her and abandons his own family. If the people sitting on thrones are led by the greed for power and the greed for lust and wealth, it can sometimes lead to irreparable damage to their country and its people. This might sound preachy, but the film presents this through the screenplay instead of blatant sermons. The film is also a commentary on the disappearance of Buddhist ideals and principals in modern Japanese society.

Along with Mizoguchi's style of storytelling, one can't help but admire the skill of his camera work. The film has many beautiful wide shots which serve both purposes - beauty as well as thematic relevance. There are some seamless transitions from one scene to another. Mizoguchi also beautifully builds tension and sets a Gothic creepy atmosphere in certain scenes which lends the film a genuine horror element. However, 'Ugetsu' like 'Rashomon' ends in a very optimistic and emotional note.

'Ugetsu' is a film whose importance and significance in film history can never be questioned. It is an artistic allegory of life during wartime. As long as the concept of war exists in human society, this film will continue to have significant relevance.
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Exploration of fool's dreams, supernatural and the outskirts of war
Anssi Vartiainen6 September 2015
Ugetsu, or Ugetsu monogatari, took the world by storm when it was released in the 50s, helping to popularize Japanese cinema in the West. Even nowadays it is hailed as one of the best to come out of Japan. It tells the story of two families that try to seek their fortunes while a war rages near their lands. Its messages are those of knowing your place, not extending your reach, avoiding the temptations of glory and flesh, the safety of home and most importantly the fact that sometimes the past and the afterlife are not yet ready to leave this world.

It's a multilayered story, focusing mostly on the husbands of the two families, as they travel to a distant marketplace in the midst of war in order to sell their pottery. Along the way they both face struggles and temptations that delay their return home. The contrast rises from the fact that whereas one of them is lead astray by his own need for glory, the other is seduced by a source he had no way of anticipating. Likewise the two wives deal with the missing of their husbands in very different manners, creating contrast.

The reason why I haven't ranked this movie any higher is because I have slight problems with Japanese live action cinema in general. More accurately with its pacing. Ugetsu is a slow film. Its tone is also surprisingly flat, which is another thing I've often noticed in Japanese films. It's a cultural thing, I have no doubt about it, but the fact still remains that I have problems identifying with any of the characters or the events because they're all performed with minimal emotions. Horrible things happen, but the expressions on the people's faces hardly change. Or, when the characters finally show any emotions, they overact. Most of the emotions have to be read from the context or from the dialogue. This stems from the heavy traditions of Japanese theatre, and while I respect it, I simply don't like it.

Ugetsu is an artistic film. It has heavy, deeply layered themes, archetypical plot and characters struggling against their fates. Definitely worth checking out if you're looking for a deeper movie experience. Personally I don't like it all that much, but I have a lot of respect for it.
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Ugetsu Good
Michael Mendez5 September 2015
Now these are the type of films that give me a reason to critique work. In Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugestu, I was moved and tossed through a loop, but in the end it was definitely worth it.

I am fascinated by the Japanese culture especially the different eras/periods that they went though. The title of the film is based on a book, two in fact, called "Tales of the Moon and Rain" (I am trying my best not to add any spoilers to this entry.)

The film takes place in the 16th century Civil-War period. These were desperate times of survival, mostly for men who would have the main duty of protecting the family. The protagonist in this story, Genjûrô, has a wife and a child. They are in need of money and his pottery is beginning to sell very well on ACCOUNT of the war going on. It is when a group of bandits come into their small village and demand strict labor upon any man they can find. Luckily, Genjûrô's family gets away just in time. They set sail to a bigger town, so he can sell more of his crafts. To accompany him is a man named Tobei and his wife. Tobei is sort of the dimwitted character that needs a purpose. Though, everything he needs is right in from of him (a wife, friends, food, a decent job, etc.), he has a dream to one day be a samurai. This you can tell is not a good idea, since he is gullible and really bad with his savings. But at least he is helping Genjûrô and his family get by.

It is when Genjûrô's wife has to stay back with the child so that they can travel more cautiously. There have been pirates lurking around and it was not necessary to risk it. In the town that Genjûrô, Tobei, and his wife sell the pottery, Genjûrô comes across a mysterious maiden with hikimayu eyebrows, Lady Wakasa, who invites him up to her secluded manor with her and her servant lady. This is probably where I should stop.

The film definitely took me by surprise. I actually thought it was a horror flick at first. Either way, I was not disappointed to find out that is was a fantasy/drama/mystery. It kept me interested the whole way through. I would have to say my favorite character that goes through the change is simply Tobei. His aspiring hope for becoming a true man and brave warrior take a turn.. for whatever you want to look at it. I found him and his wife's story, which sort of breaks off from Genjûrô's in the middle, very touching and heartfelt.
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Like the Bon festival and New Year's rolled into one
gizmomogwai18 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Truly one of the greatest and most stunning films of all time, Ugetsu (1953) is a Japanese masterpiece, a ghost story- and so much more. Masterfully combining two stories from its source, Tales of Moonlight and Rain, Ugetsu is set during the Japanese Civil Wars and follows a farmer whose pottery takes off, sales booming in wartime. His ambition and greed inflamed, he leaves his wife and young son for business, ultimately seduced by a strange young lady- who poses a sinister threat to him.

Ugetsu is a tale of ambition, desire and greed consuming men and leading to grief. This is tied in with the civil wars- in 1953, a lesson about the follies of war would have resonated with Japanese audiences. As a ghost story, the subplot of the potterer Genjûrô's buffoonish sidekick Tôbee pursuing a career as a samurai might ordinarily be an odd fit, but in this film the two stories don't seem to conflict. Like Genjûrô, Tôbee is chasing an unrealistic dream, and abandoning his wife destroys her. Seeing her raped and becoming a disgraced prostitute is dark, but in the end they get off easier than our hero and his wife.

It's Genjûrô's story that's truly the outstandingly mesmerizing part of the film, at once surreal but very real and frightening. Our seductress, Lady Wakasa, presents herself as the survivor of a wiped out clan. She hints she may be an enchantress, she acknowledges spirits in the castle, but she entraps Genjûrô with a life of pleasures and makes him forget about his family. A holy man warns him his life is in danger and Lady Wakasa is a spirit- he finally sees it when Lady Wakasa is repelled by prayers to Buddha the holy man has painted on Genjûrô's skin. Lady Wakasa is revealed as an unholy abomination, but somewhat sympathetic, a girl killed before ever knowing love.

Genjûrô returns to his home village as the family man his wife always wanted him to be- but now, his wife is a spirit herself, a casualty of war. Seeing him reunited and then losing the apparition of his lost wife is reminiscent of the later Soviet film Solaris (1972). It's nearly as frightening and devastating. The two ghosts of the film tie the story together as a motif, with the atmosphere helped along with spooky music and other supernatural allusions. Ugetsu emerges as a fantastic tale, universal in its themes and message and brilliantly executed. Like its ghost characters, it may live forever.
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Yes, this is cinema - hurrah!
christopher-underwood21 August 2007
A wonderful film but as I came to try to capture in words its beauty, I realised I had scored it 9. What possible reason could there be for not giving a 10? None at all. So a perfect film? Yes I think so because we are captivated by the main characters from the beginning, every shot is enchanting and we are drawn seamlessly through sequences of dream, of reality and fantasy. Sometimes we are more aware than others, as indeed is the same for the main protagonists. Sometimes ahead of the game but often not. Three stories are woven together as one and we find ourselves, as viewers, drawn into and out of the action, trying to assess the decisions made and keeping a hold on reality. Intelligent, compassionate and emotionally involving this superb film is so well filmed with such great understanding that it would probably work silent. Images roll effortlessly from one to another. Yes, this is cinema - hurrah!
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stands up to the test of time
CountZero31319 July 2007
What could have easily turned into an overbearing morality tale becomes, in Mizoguchi's hands, a thing of simple beauty. The debilitating effects of male greed and ambition, and the interlinked thwarting of women's dreams, are related prosaically enough through the plot development. What elevates Ugetsu to greatness is the haunting, fearful imagery employed in the ghost sequences, and the mundane, banal rendering of rape and murder. Mizoguchi employs the full frame to great effect; as one character dies in the foreground, her murderers, weakened by hunger, quarrel over scraps of food far in the distance. Sound is employed skillfully, too; the cries of the child on the back of his dying mother are heart-wrenching. The ending is surprisingly upbeat, both couples reunited after a fashion, their love tested but undiminished - strengthened, if anything. Modern Japanese cinema, driven by TV cash and a TV mindset, often seems unable to reach out and deliver human stories that can be universally understood. It seems ironic to think that over fifty years ago, a mere eight years after the end of WWII, Mizoguchi could so skillfully debunk the Japanese male psyche and 'Yamato spirit'; yet in 2007 we have the Governor of Tokyo scripting films about the glory of the kamikaze and Japan's crusade of Asian liberation. Nostalgia for the heyday of Japanese cinema is as much a product of modern failure as the genius of Mizoguchi and his peers.
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Meandering Melodrama
kenjha7 August 2011
In 16th century Japan, as a civil war rages on, a potter dreams of fortunes while his neighbor dreams of becoming a samurai. This is regarded as one of the great achievements in Japanese cinema, but pales in comparison to Ozu's "Tokyo Story," released the same year. The cinematography is good. The script is simplistic in its message, but the story meanders and veers towards melodrama. The subplot dealing with ghosts and delusions has the potential to be something compelling, but the execution leaves much to be desired. A little subtlety would have been welcome. The acting is uneven, often tending towards the theatrical, as in the films of Kurosawa.
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Unique, esoteric and gorgeous
David29 November 2002
UGETSU was my first exposure to Mizoguchi, and has quickly became an all-time favorite of mine. Overall, I like the themes that Mizoguchi pursues (the roles of and oppression of women in society, the lives of those at the bottom of a social hierarchy, and greed) and those themes are handled here with spectacular subtlety, along with a strong anti-war sentiment, which is also well-expressed. Mizoguchi - while nominally a specialist in "period-drama," was in truth a master at genre-blending explorations of human nature, and here the historic setting is enhanced by skilled diversions into the supernatural, romance, adventure and action. Mizoguchi's famed technique results in one of the most beautifully photographed films you will ever see - the graceful, gliding look of the film is perfectly matched to the complex but methodically paced story.
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