Ugetsu

Ugetsu ★★★½

Ugetsu is a supernatural tale about the dangers of greed, lust and ambition for money and power. Set during a period of upheaval in 16th century Japan, two men from the farming village of Nakanogō—each with their own disparate aspirations for success—set out for the nearby town of Ōmizo to peddle their wears in hopes of enriching themselves and their families before they are inevitably sent off to fight in the war for Nagashima. Genjūrō, a potter, just wants a better and more prosperous life for his family, while Tōbei has dreams of becoming an esteemed samurai. Together they begin their quest for riches and fame, only to each fall victim to their own greed by way of bad luck and a malevolent spirit.

There’s something about this film that just screams “classic”. I don’t know if it’s the lore based narrative, the incredible cinematography or the terrific performances (or a mix of all 3), but Ugetsu feels essential in every sense of the word. While it may be slightly dated in terms of some of it’s cinematic techniques, for the most part it holds up very well and explores themes such as wartime ethics, spirituality and family values in a way that feels authentic and fresh. Machiko Kyō gives a spectacular, spine-chilling performance as Lady Wakasa. She brings a haunting and mysterious energy to her character that succeeded in both seducing me and creeping me out. Japanese cinema was forever changed in terms of its reach and filmic landscape following the release of this movie. Both in terms of the influence it would go on to have on later Japanese filmmaking and the popularization of films from Japan in the west, it’s safe to say Ugetsu made an impact that can’t be understated.

Recommended for fans of a good ghost story, as well as those looking to ease their way into Japanese films or expand their knowledge thereof. You cannot go wrong with legendary auteur Kenji Mizoguchi’s exemplary 1953 work of avarice, paranormality and loss.

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