Ugetsu ★★★★½


Kenji Mizoguchi's classic from what must be some golden age of Japanese cinema, Ugetsu, bears the appearance of a film that is a couple of movies slapped together into one -- with some elements of the story more fully-realized and thoroughly developed than others. Yet there's also a sense stirring that Ugetsu would be drastically incomplete if it lacked any of the varying elements it has going for it. Professional ambitions (some more unreasonable, yet not entirely unattainable, than others) in the midst of a war-torn country, and supernatural and spiritual spookiness lurking in the authentic setting and creeping up on the melancholy of the characters are among some of the biggest ideas that Mizoguchi explores, crafting an ambitious, yet truly seamless, combination of an historical war film, mythical fantasy, bittersweet romance, and even elements of horror. It's a masterful amalgamation of different inspirations, and the fact Mizoguchi conquers what he sets out to do in just over an hour and a half is bafflingly impressive. Additionally, though, the characters arcs concocted in this thing come off the screen as if reading a great piece of literature (perhaps, at least in part, due to the literary roots of many of the story elements), making it so that Ugetsu isn't so much a film focused on its bold ideas as it is on the touching human element and thoughtful characterization. It's beautiful, hypnotic, elegiac, and surprisingly accessible, and surely up there with some of the finest works in Japanese cinema. And, trust me, that's saying *a lot*.

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