Ugetsu

Ugetsu ★★★★★

Film #19: Around the World in 30 Days (March 2018 Challenge)
Film #12: Film School Drop Outs (2018 Weekly Challenge)

Country: Japan
Theme: Kenji Mizoguchi

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I had muddled the two plots (Genjurō the potter and Tōbei the samurai-wannabe) at the beginning, confusing one actor for the other as their stories weaved in and out during the army invasion that opens the film. I’m usually an attentive viewer, so I don’t know what happened there. The actors do look similar, and the Tōbei subplot doesn’t get the strongest of introductions, so I don’t think I’m losing it just yet. It’s probably because I’m so used to having directors delineate what’s what with an exacting rigour that made me unprepared for the more fluid approach that Mizoguchi takes. He conceives these stories not as individual units, but as parallel adventures that subtly comment on each other and the film’s broader reach: warfare, patriarchy, female disempowerment, and familial duty. Maybe, in a way, both Tōbei and Genjurō are two fragments of the same man, taking two dissimilar paths and finding that the outcomes are one and the same: total disrepair and disenchantment, as well as the abject suffering of their women caused by their selfish desires.

A second viewing will no doubt make these distinctions crystal clear. It’s not at all a knock on this beautifully-calibrated film, the careful construction of which is evident from top to bottom. I was so enchanted by the seamless incorporation of the ghost story, and how it never feels overdone or ridiculous. I take it that’s because Mizoguchi has an intuitive understanding of these characters and their personal histories, so that their longings and passions are always in the foreground, regardless of whether they’re living or dead. The graceful cinematography, the traditional music, and the efficient pacing help Ugetsu further blossom into a prime viewing experience that I honestly could not fault in any major sense. There’s the right mix of humour and pathos, a wonderful ensemble of gifted actors, and that satisfying sense of completeness you want to see in a film of good calibre.

What more can I say? Bring on the Mizoguchi, I guess, if this is the kind of quality he brings to his work.