Ugetsu ★★★★★

Hoop-Tober 2.O Film #18

Ugetsu is one of the great moral fables I've seen, at once powerfully incisive in its observations, yet also universal, cosmic in its truths. Like the elegantly beautiful sweeping camera movements for which he became famous, Mizoguchi's stories are at once wide in their breadth and intimate in their details. This film is mysterious in its ghostly mysticism, but it is also clear in its themes and meanings. It is deeply beautiful and eminently wise. It is very, very good.

So much is touched on here, from the subtext of the pervasive brutality of war to the allegorical treatment of the city as a spring of vice. But first and foremost, this is a story about greed and the folly of excessive ambition and how the pride of men will be their downfall. One the most resonating moments comes early on, when Genjûrô makes a gift of a fine dress to his wife, and how little he understands when she says the gift means less than his love. Genjûrô and Tôbee are men, and they are blinded by greed and lust. There's something deeply sad about how their foolishness drags their wives through terrible pain. How simple it should be, that family and an affectionate home and peace are better than the world's treasures, and that faithfulness is more beautiful than any beautiful thing; how slow we are to remember it.

I have now seen six of Mizoguchi's films, and I am coming to believe he is one the greatest of all directors. As with Ozu, his films are like transcendent experiences: their styles are at once obvious and mysteriously powerful, drawing me with strength and gentleness into narratives that are are as simple on the surface as they are infinitely complex in their underlying emotions. But if Ozu is like a friend who comes alongside you, as Roger Ebert so eloquently put it, then Mizoguchi is the Wise Man on the Mountaintop, not a friend, but an Oracle. We approach him with fear, but we can trust what he says.

P.S. Apologies for the rambly review. I can't be detached about movies like this.

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