Ugetsu

Ugetsu ★★★★★

The more Mizoguchi I watch the more deserving I think he is of being ranked alongside Japanese greats like Ozu, Kobayashi, and of course Kurosawa. Ugetsu is the ghostly story of two men obsessively driven towards their goals. One, a skilled potter (Genjuro), takes advantage of war time prices and gets a taste for wealth. He lusts first for silver then for a woman, Lady Wakasa. The other, his neighbor and occasional assistant (Tobei), wants to bring glory and wealth as a samurai. The film sees these goals to fruition but at terrible costs. Genjuro's wife is killed by soldiers and Tobei's wife is forced into prostitution after being brutally raped by other samurai. Ugetsu feels progressive for its time, it's very much interested in the female sacrifice that the men's rise to power imposes. They aren't bad people and have good intentions but are blind to the consequence of their actions. Ultimately happiness is found by the two men in the place they started geographically and socially. This is a cautionary tale warning against the betrayal of familial responsibility and the blind pursuit of riches (or anything really). This grounded story is augmented by the supernatural. The evocative black and white cinematography is otherworldly and suggests the story's existence in a different reality long before the plot directly introduces it. Consider their journey by lake with the fog obscuring the surroundings just a little to perfectly. When a ship appears you can't help but expect a ghost and it's all thanks to the visuals. The plot introduces this element via Genjuro's muse in the market who turns out to be a spirit returning to earth to experience the love she never had in her life. The extent of her control over him is vague, he seems lucid when making the critical decision to get married to her but apparently forgets this overnight. A priest in the market eventually warns that he must leave the woman at once or face certain death. He also covers Genjuro's body in sanskrit text, a fact concealed to the audience until the wonderfully creepy Lady Wakasa recoils after touching him. He wills himself to leave the home but awakens to find it all burned down, and not all that recently according to the soldiers shaking him awake. The film nails this atmosphere of a period piece ghost story, not at all scary but undeniably creepy. The beautiful cinematography, thematically rich story, and well executed supernatural elements work in perfect harmony. It's another masterpiece from Mizoguchi.

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