Ugetsu ★★★★

One of classical Japanese cinema’s treasures, Kenji Mizoguchi’s breathtaking fairytale Ugetsu is a ravishing piece of work that extends its folkloric roots into universal notes of human behavior. Morally and socially complex, Mizoguchi tells a story of a town ravaged by the ills of civil war. The individuals here in the story are driven to the extremes of greed, ambition and lust. And the film follows the end result of such selfish acts. Ugetsu is epic in scope, but it’s presented in such intimate and almost minimalist gaze possible. The fantastical elements never feel out of place with the realism surrounding it. Every frame is sleek, articulate, elegant, purposeful with no scene wasted.

In wars, women and children suffer mostly, and Ugetsu paints a beautiful and intelligent portraiture of what women go through in the extreme aspects of war. There’s care for female characters. Mizoguchi never sentimentalizes, but he gazes them with such dignity and respect. He puts forth genuine emotion out of their misery, and allow them to fully express themselves. The arcs of his characters are well-written and quite absorbing. The whole cast led by Machiko Kyo, Kinuyo Tanaka and Masayuki Mori are all wonderful in their performances. Tanaka is probably my favorite, transcending her long-suffering wife character into an unforgettable presence of self-sacrifice and goodwill.

Ugetsu is something to behold. There’s an unusual magic whenever I see a classic Japanese film and this certainly gave me that kind of feeling. Rich and emotionally expansive, I can’t wait to revisit this again!

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