Ben’s review published on Letterboxd:
Day #9 of Japanuary!
Continuing with the theme of watching Japanese films throughout January, I decided to watch a film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi today.
Ugetsu is a ghost story and a tale of greed. Two men are willing to risk losing the most important people in their life in order to be in grand economic standing. They are as self-interested and materialistic as they come. Their wives and neighbors pleaded with them to stop trying to make quick and easy money during a time of conflict, warned them of the potential danger of raids, and these two men refused to listen. One of them even had a young child! The two men's wishes ultimately came true, at least briefly, but not without a cost.
Mizoguchi's films continue to impress me. His name often gets thrown into all the conversations about the most influential or best Japanese filmmakers of all time, and it is easy to see why. The shot composition, framing, and transitions are all phenomenal. It is evident that he was always in total control of his craft. There is some seriously beautiful and chilling sequences in not just this film, but every single one that I have seen from him.
Some people prefer his films over the legendary Akira Kurosawa's films because they feel like his films have less of a western influence, but what really makes me consider him as one of the all time best is the fact that the themes in his films are universal and the characters are easy to get emotionally invested in. Every film I have seen from him feels ahead of its time in terms of messaging and execution. Japanese culture, folktales, and symbolism are at the forefront of many of his films, but the people he depicts are relatable and easy to care about regardless of the time period or where they are from. Every film I have seen from him has been an emotional experience, but never over-sentimental or melodramatic. Everything he is trying to communicate to the viewer comes off as genuine and well thought out. I know that there are many people who actively avoid older films and international films, but I feel like Mizoguchi's humanistic touch and mastery could draw anybody in, hold their attention, and emotionally impact them.
I cannot say enough good things about Ugetsu. It is so good on so many levels. The two men go through a lot of character development and their lives drastically change more than once in a short runtime, but it never feels rushed. The film is perfectly paced with a ton of striking imagery, all backed by a chilling score. Mizoguchi really gets a lot from the whole cast too, as they display a lot of different emotions incredibly well. I can definitely understand why this film is regarded as a masterpiece, and I think it would only benefit from a rewatch. If you have struggled to get into older films or haven't seen a lot of older Japanese films, consider giving Ugetsu or any of Mizoguchi's other films a chance. They are seriously special.