Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Based on the book Ugetsu Monogatari by Ueda Akinari, Ugetsu is a ghost story that follows the follies of men who are interested in ambitious deeds as it would affect the fate of their wives. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and screenplay by Matsutaro Kawaguchi and Yoshikata Yoda, the film is an exploration into the world of two simple men who crave for something better only to realize what they lose as it plays into the rise-and-fall scenario. Starring Mayasuki Mori, Machiko Kyo, and Kinuyo Tanaka. Ugetsu is a hypnotic yet harrowing film from Kenji Mizoguchi.

Set in the late 16th Century during a war at the Omi Province in Japan, a farmer and his friend both have ambitions to give their wives a better life as the former hopes to be rich through pottery while the latter wants to become a samurai warrior. Both men would succeed in their ambitions but at great cost as the farmer finds himself entranced by a mysterious beauty while his friend achieves greatness only to realize his foolishness when he discovers what happened to his wife. It’s a film that explores the folly of ambition during a place in time where war is happening and chaos is rampant in small villages where the instincts of many villagers is to survive and evade pirates, bandits, and rag-tag soldiers. Unfortunately, two men become blinded by ambition that they lose sight of what is important.

The film’s screenplay definitely plays to the rise-and-fall scenario where the farmer Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) is eager to give his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and their son Genichi (Ikio Sawamura) a better life as he sells some things with the help of his friend Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) where they make some good money. Genjuro’s talent in pottery has him wanting to do more as he thinks there is more money to be made in this time of war. Miyagi isn’t so sure as is Tobei’s wife Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) who reluctantly joins Tobei and Genjuro to go across the lake to a town to sell Genjuro’s pottery. That would play into the fortunes that would happen in the second act where Genjuro is entranced by the mysterious Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) while Tobei’s desire to become a samurai has him taking the money he’s made into buying armor and a spear where he unknowingly kills a top general during the war. Ohama would find herself trying to find Tobei only for her fate to go bad as she becomes dishonored.

The film’s second half would unveil the fallacy of the decision these two men made where Genjuro becomes entranced by Lady Wasaka unaware of what is happening to him. Even as he starts to forget about Miyagi who is back home with their son trying to survive in their ruined village from rag-tag soldiers. While much of the second half would play into Genjuro’s time with Lady Wasaka, the story does reveal what is happening to Miyagi, Ohama, and Tobei. Most notably Tobei as he becomes a top samurai warrior where he finds out what happened to Ohama as he learns the true meaning of what it is to be a samurai warrior. Eventually, tragedy does occur as well as the realization about what is to really be rich as the script would also have this element of fantasy vs. reality in its third act as it relates to Genjuro’s journey.

Kenji Mizoguchi’s direction is very entrancing in the way he presents the story in not just his framing but also in the simplicity that he tells the story. Notably as he uses the frame to capture the beauty of the locations near Lake Biwa where Mizoguchi uses some slow tracking shots to capture the beauty of the location as well as wide shots of the towns and villages that the characters encounter. Stilll, Mizoguchi maintains a sense of drama that occurs such as the scenes of the villagers hiding in the woods where he maintains that air of suspense that is happening. Even in the scene where the two couples and Genichi are in a boat in the lake where it would play into something very ominous about what might be ahead where they do turn back only for Genjuro and Tobei to make another attempt to take that route with Ohama’s help.

Much of the film’s second half would feature some unique compositions to play out the fates of the many characters in the film. Notably as it would delve into melodrama as far as the fates of Ohama and Miyagi are concerned while Tobei’s story is a bit of a black-comedy in how he stumbles his way into greatness only to become a drama when he finds out what happened to Ohama. Then there’s Genjuro’s story where Mizoguchi maintains this air of mystique in the way he presents Genjuro’s life with Lady Wasaka where there’s a beauty to the images that plays out but it adds to something that is quite off. Notably as it would reveal into what is really going on as well as the tragedy that is to happen. Overall, Mizoguchi creates a very visceral yet poignant drama about the folly of ambition.

Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture the beauty of the locations while using some entrancing lighting schemes, with help from Kenichi Okamoto, to maintain that sense of brooding atmosphere at the home of Lady Wasaka. Editor Mitsuzo Miyata does excellent work with editing with the use of dissolves and transitional fade-outs to help structure the story while using some steady cuts to play out the film‘s drama. Art director Kisaku Ito does fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of the home of Lady Wasaka as well as the villages and towns the characters encounter.

The costumes by Shima Yoshimi is nice for the silk kimonos that Genjuro wants to get for Miyagi as well as the mysterious look of Lady Wasaka. Hair designer Ritsu Hanai and makeup artist Zenya Fukuyama do terrific work with the look of Lady Wasaka from her exotic makeup and hairstyle to represent the air of mystique about her. The sound work of Iwao Otani is superb for the intimacy that is created in the quieter moments along with the sounds of chaos in the scenes in the city and moments involving the soldiers. The film’s music by Fumio Hayasaka is brilliant for its ominous score with its mixture of heavy percussions and somber orchestral score blended with Japanese folk instruments to play up the melodrama and mystique in the film.

The film’s cast is remarkable as it features some notable small roles from Ryosuke Kagawa as the village chief, Ikio Sawamura as Genjuro and Miyagi’s young son Genichi, Sugisaku Aoyama as an old priest Genjuro meets late in the film, and Kikue Mori as Lady Wasaka’s aide who would play into Genjuro’s mind. Eitaro Ozawa is excellent as Tobei as a foolish man whose desire to become a samurai leads to a lot of trouble as he realizes the fallacies of his desires. Mitsuko Mito is wonderful as Tobei’s wife Ohama as a woman who tries to get Tobei to face reality only for his foolishness would get her into places that is horrific as she becomes dishonored.

Machiko Kyo is fantastic as Lady Wasaka as a woman of great beauty and mystique who definitely represents all the things that Genjuro could have but there is something about her that is off which adds a layer to Kyo’s performance. Kinuyo Tanaka is radiant as Miyagi as a woman who craves simpler things and tries to tell Genjuro that there’s no need for more as she later deals with his disappearance and face the dark reality of war. Finally, there’s Masayuki Mori in a marvelous performance as Genjuro as a man who wants to make a lot of money so his family wouldn’t be poor only to lose sight of what is really valuable when he meets Lady Wasaka as he becomes lost in a dark world.

Ugetsu is a phenomenal film from Kenji Mizoguchi that features top-notch performances from Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Machiko Kyo. The film is definitely an engrossing yet touching film about the folly of ambition as well as an exploration into how women become lost by the ambition of men. Especially as it takes a simple ghost fable into something more where it is presented in a troubling period in time when people are desperate to do good and escape poverty. In the end, Ugetsu is a spectacular film from Kenji Mizoguchi.

Kenji Mizoguchi Films: (Tokyo March) - (The Water Magician) - (Aizo Toge) - (The Downfall of Ozen) - Osaka Elegy - (Sisters of the Gion) - (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums) - The 47 Ronin - (Utamaro and his Five Women) - (The Love of the Actress Sumako) - (Portrait of Madame Yuki) - (Miss Oyu) - (The Lady of Musashino) - The Life of Oharu - (A Geisha) - Sansho the Bailiff - (The Woman in the Rumor) - The Crucified Lovers - (Princess Yang Kwei-Fei) - (Tales of Taira Clan) - (Street of Shame)

© thevoid99 2013

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