Ugetsu ★★★★

Ravishing, dreamlike monument from Mizoguchi about a man (Masayuki Mori)'s greedy abandonment of his wife (Kinuyo Tanaka) and son during a time of war and his subsequent, tragic cavorting in the spirit world is sourced from fable-like stories by the writer Ueda Akinari, and the sweep of the plot has the deeply rooted, elemental feel of folklore being passed down directly to us. The film is pulled in many directions simultaneously in terms of its focus, ironically given the somewhat schematic and unbalanced nature of its structure, but a key theme is the ravages that war inflicts on people, especially women; in this way the film fits neatly in with Mizoguchi's '30s works about the sufferings of women like The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion... but despite its reputation this film lacks some of the elegance of those, introducing a compelling but comparatively weak subplot about a man-child (Eitaro Ozawa) whose aspirations to become a Samurai warrior leave his wife suffering that it cannot really resolve satisfactorily. One is so seduced by the opening act -- with its chronicle of slowly creeping obsession and escape -- and by the ghost story elements of the midsection, and the plight and downfall of the potter Genjurō's wife, that your only wish is to spend more time in that world and it's strange to have it routinely interrupted in such a short film. Every part of the film is sensorially arresting (the fog! the light!), however, and the feeling of redemption and grace at the finale, as bleak as the actual events depicted really are, is so persuasive in its maturity about love and death that it could save your life.

Seeing this extremely late at night in a dark room is an experience I wholeheartedly recommend.

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