Ugetsu ★★★★

Ugetsu (1953), directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, tells the tale of a potter named Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), his wife Miyagi (Kenuyo Tanaka) and their adorable little son named Genichi (Ichisaburo Sawamura), who live and profit during the 16th century civil war of Japan. They make ends meet by selling pots to soldiers. 

They also have a married couple living next to them, Tobei (Eitarō Ozawa), and Omaha (Mitsuko Mito), that the film follows too. Tobei dreams of being a samurai and bringing honour to his families name, but it’s immediately clear he’s a fool and will get himself killed. 

The peasants do their best to survive under the harsh brutality of war. The subjugation of the working classes are fully displayed, and it’s hard not to root for them. At the same time, you can see that the money they earn is slowly corrupting the husbands and disaster is inevitable. At first they are happy, but it’s not long before the selfish, greedy actions only exasperates their already dire circumstances. 

This is a Moralistic tale, almost Shakespearean, that has a voyage and return structure, and feels very complete during its 96 minutes duration. 

There’s also a surprising third act that blends genres, and works really well, reminding one of Kwaidan by Kobayashi.

It’s also quite beautiful, with a wonderful attention to detail to the characters daily lives. The costumes range from rags to opulence, all giving an authentic impression. 

The performances are wonderful and many of the actors have starred in other Japanese classics such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Human Condition, and The Face of Another. 

This is the first Mizoguchi film I’ve seen and it was an enjoyable experience. With strong performances, solid direction, and a powerful ending, Ugetsu deserves all the recognition it receives.

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