Ugetsu

Ugetsu ★★★★½

Ugetsu is the first film I've seen in a while that, after it was over, I felt compelled to just reflect on what I'd just taken in. I certainly found Ugestu to be a striking work while watching it, but it was on further reflection that the film's greatness grew in my eyes. The film is set during a period of civil war in 16th century Japan and focuses on two families who are displaced by conflict. Their choices following this displacement permanently shape their futures. At the most immediate level, Ugestu is about the chaos of war. The film presents the displacement of the main families and the ensuing chaos, but it also observes the general disorder and anarchy that comes to reign. Interesting and crucial as this content is, I'd argue the film is even more a feminist critique of patriarchal family structures and the dangers women face which men do not consider. What happens to both women following the departure of their husbands is fascinating and makes some pretty blunt statements. It's particularly interesting when one considers neither husband was deliberately acting malicious, in fact, selfish as their actions were, it can be argued that both men were trying to do well by their families, at least to some extent.

The film also takes on a spiritual aspect. Though it doesn't announce itself as a ghost story until fairly late, the film's gliding camera and a striking sequence on foggy waters create a sort of ethereal tone. When ghosts are revealed, it feels like the logical place this story had to go, not some left-field twist. Director Kenji Mizoguchi is known for his long takes and camera movements and both are used to brilliant effect here. One slowly becomes absorbed into the film, but Mizoguchi's hand is always subtle, to the point where one hardly realizes they've become enraptured in the film. There are also a lot of great sequences, including an impromptu murder where he single take excellently conveys the improvisation and clumsiness of the act, and the aforementioned stroll down a fog drenched river, which just dripping with atmosphere. And then there's the climax, which simultaneously feels huge while being remarkably simple and the ensuing denouement is highly intriguing. The performances are all strong and the film as a whole is a remarkably assured accomplishment.

I can't wait to watch Ugestu again.