Sam Noland’s review published on Letterboxd:
During the Japanese Civil Wars of the 16th century, two men seek to overcome the circumstances and lead successful lives; one as a pottery merchant, the other as a samurai warrior. They’re willing to go to great lengths to succeed, but the long-term cost may be too much...
I’ve been watching this movie for three days now; I’m somewhat notorious for my proclivity of falling asleep during movies, regardless of quality (just ask my podcast cohosts), and this one proved to be especially difficult for me to finish in one sitting. Even though it’s not very long, it’s methodical and meditative, and actually somewhat uneventful. It’s also great. I’ve never seen anything by Mizoguchi before, so I thought this might be a good place to start, and I’m glad I did. It’s a fantastic representation of how war affects people on an individual basis without ever displaying any visceral action or combat. There are certain period pieces that expect the viewer to have some working knowledge of the era, but this is not one of those (although I imagine having that knowledge would shed light on even deeper subtexts).
It’s also an interesting allegorical story of how ambition can lead to downfall, and the big, pivotal moments never feel forced or conventional. There are a lot of great movies about a slow descent from success to failure (Greed, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, There Will Be Blood, etc.), but this one is infused with so much minimalism, culture, and confidence that I don’t mind the somewhat familiar plot points. It takes a seemingly wrote idea (overambition leading to eventual loss) and transcends it by incorporating interesting ideas and concepts having to do with honor and spirituality that I couldn’t get enough of.
Ugetsu is often cited as one of the better films ever made, and I can’t say I have too much objection to that. I’m really excited to see what else Mizoguchi has to offer in the (hopefully) near future, just so long as I’m fully conscious next time. If anything I said sounded interesting to you, I’d definitely recommend watching it, even if you’re unfamiliar with the genre or time period. It might not be your style, but I can almost guarantee you’ll get something out of it.