Milo Paulus’s review published on Letterboxd:
Oozing with class, atmosphere, authenticity, sophistication, and intelligence, Kenji Mizoguchi's flawless spectral masterpiece "Ugetsu", is one of the great films of the mid 20th century.
A great work of cinema, a great morality parable, Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu deserves the praises which have been heaped on it by virtually every film critic, historian and gutsy audience member who chose to seek it out. Usually i describe the movie's plot minimally, in most reviews, i wanted to do it here too, but i wont. I went in blind, not knowing anything, and boy what a story. All i'll say is that it's a story of 2 ambitious men and their wives, during the Japanese Civil War.
The film is a tragic story of humanity, and it's setup like a classic folk-tale. (in fact, it is based on a couple by Ueda Akinari) Mizoguchi uses this simple folk-tale like story as the vehicle for an unforgettable, subtle, and complex study in ambition, delusion, tragedy, and bitter, partial redemption. Director Kenji Mizoguchi intended for the film to have an anti-war message, showing the horrible impact violence has on people. This theme of the film is often not talked about because it is overshadowed by other brilliant pieces in this puzzle, but the way he employs it is utterly powerful, no normal World War II flick could. This is just as effective as The Best Years of Our Lives, All Quiet on the Western Front, and other masterpieces of this sort.
Mizoguchi's cinematography is very striking at certain scenes, but the parts that stand out the most are the foggy lake segment with its marvelous mixture of light and shadows. This famous sequence was shot partly on a tank with studio backdrops, but it regardless creates a world of fog and mist, out of which a lone, dying boatman appears. The music is certainly memorable too. The use of traditional instruments is very prominent in almost every scene and further attenuates the interesting atmosphere.
The film is aesthetically breathtakingly beautiful and it's full of poetic imagery: like the scene at the lake i already talked about, the breakfast on the lawn and the final shot where the camera raises above the entire village. Through these scenes a strong contrast between fantasy and reality can be seen: fantasy gets power of reality and depth for tragedy. The film is an allegory for postwar Japan but the film achieves to break out of limitations of time; it's a timeless classic about beauty, art and life. Ugetsu is both realistic and allegorical it's an astonishing experience which is quite impossible to forget. The synthesis of picture and sound, the reconstruction of the epoch and the poetic imagery are perfectly created. The film is for its perfect style, intelligent content and insightful themes one of the most beautiful films ever made. It leaves you speechless and makes me want to see more Mizoguchi.