pulp_fiction’s review published on Letterboxd:
This was my first Kenji Mizoguchi film, but because of the fascination I have in such films as Sansho, The 47 Ronin, and Oharu, as well as the quality of this movie — Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain) — prompts me to see more.
The film gives off a misty, mysterious feel that truly classifies it as a ghost-story, and the eerie, off-key tune played throughout adds to the surreal essence. Two couples, Genjuro & Miyagi and Tobei & Ohama, are poor villagers who eventually earn some money due to the husbands’ hard work. However, they are rushed out of their small town by the violent force of soldiers and must abandon their houses. The couples are separated in hazy confusion, each character ending up facing their own hardships, although there was a large difference between the destinies of the men and the women. The men overcome their struggles and are met with wealth, fame, and lust, while the women endure rape, violence, and loneliness. However, the prosperity of the men is not long-lived, and they are forced through harsh changes.
As said by many, acting is reacting, and in the beginning of the film, it seems as if only the women are reacting whereas the men are always doing their own thing and making individual decisions. After twists and turns, tragedy and redemption, the men have been thrown around like puppets until all they can do is react to their surroundings. By the end of the movie, the men don’t “act” anymore, rather they are controlled by their fates and have lost much of the jurisdiction they had had previously. Instead they “react” — Tobei learns of his wife’s new occupation; Genjuro is plagued by his new lover. The men are punished for their greed and blindness by the actions of the women.
The film played out like a lucid dream, cloudy and enigmatic, blurring the line between life and death. It’s as if Ugetsu takes place inside the middle section of a venn diagram that graphs existence and its grim counterpart. It’s not all just a depressing course of events, though; there is an inspiring underlying message beneath the saddening narrative. It’s about how love transcends life and property. After Tobei realizes his samurai armor means nothing, he learns to appreciate his long-lost wife. Once Genjuro accepts his fate, he is still able to feel his partner’s presence from beyond the grave. The “pleasures” of the men (money, women, praise), in the end, are insignificant, and the actions fueled by greed only cause dreadful reactions.
Heartbreaking, masterfully-crafted, and endlessly analyzable, Ugetsu is a ghost tale, a love story, and a tragedy. With strong themes and solid performances, I can truly call it a masterpiece.