Chris’s review published on Letterboxd:
A Japanese fable with a deep emotional core.
The four major characters of this film are not bad people. The two men, a farmer-cum-potter and his brother-in-law with dreams of samurai success, are not bad, they don't even act badly given the situation. But each one makes a critical error in judgement. And in most fables with morals, not only do they pay for it, but so do those they love.
There are many movies that came from Japan during the post-war decades that used medieval fables to tell their stories. My wife asked me while I was watching this if any movies made in 50s Japan were set in 50s Japan. She was being flippant -- she has seen Tokyo Story -- but it isn't such a ridiculous question. There are so period movies from this era that are still held in such high esteem that when asked to think of movies set in the modern day... well Tokyo Story pops up. But it takes a moment before Ikiru and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and others follow. However, period movies... well Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo and other Kurosawa, Sansho the Bailiff, HaraKiri, and Onibaba. And that's just some of what's in the Criterion Collection.
So having seen a good variety of these films, and coming relatively late to Ugetsu, I don't know whether I can add much to it. I found it beautiful and touching and gut-wrenching. But unlike some of these fables, I found the ending surprisingly uplifting. Sad, yes, but there is a sense of hope to it, that the characters are better off than when the story started and they have learned from their experience. It is a powerful ending. It is full of pathos, but it is not heavy handed. Sometimes I find fables knock you unconscious with their message and then wake you up so they can hit you again. No so with Ugetsu. Here instead there is comfort. Yes the characters made mistakes, but there is forgiveness here and the message that we can learn from our errors, and even become better people for them. A simple moral, beautifully told.