Ugetsu Screen 20 articles

Ugetsu

1953

Ugetsu Poster
  • Maybe that dampened enthusiasm simply reflects the evolution of my taste over the past two decades—I've changed my opinion about quite a few movies, in both directions. But it seems equally possible that Ugetsu's power resides chiefly in elements that just don't translate well to pixels. Removing it from my 1953 top ten list caused me psychic pain. Did it get a raw deal? I may never know.

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    Arts: Jean-Luc Godard
    February 05, 1958 | Godard on Godard (pp. 71-72)

    Subtlety of mise en scène is here carried to its highest degree. Mizoguchi is probably the only director in the world who dares to make systematic use of 180 degree shots and reaction shots. But what in another director would be striving for effect, with him is simply a natural movement arising out of the importance he accords to the décor and the position the actors occupy within it.

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    Cahiers du cinéma: Alexandre Astruc
    October 1959 | Cahiers du cinéma: The 1950s (p. 267)

    One of the most beautiful films in the world has been made by an old Japanese director, the author of some hundred or so films, with, I am certain, no other desire than properly to practice his craft. It takes only five minutes for Ugetsu monogatari to demonstrate clearly the meaning of mise en scene – for some at any rate: a certain way of extending states of mind into movements of the body.

  • The film is an essay in the uncanny: that is, it preserves a surface of ordinary everyday happenings whilst at the same time creating a childhood world of animistic fears, so that the predicaments of the characters are plausible both in naturalistic terms and in terms of the rich, more obscure movements of the mind.

  • ...That Ugetsu could become a landmark in film history with such a disabling subplot is itself something of a miracle. Which means we must follow the path of Genjuro the potter and the two women who lead him beyond life itself before he finds his way back to the truth of his existence. But how does one describe an aesthetic experience in which meaning and mise-en-scéne are fused together in one steady stream of luminosity?

  • While Ugetsu is crammed with enough action to furnish six other spectaculars, its principal focus is less on the action itself and more on its consequences, the effects that war and love leave in their wake. Directed with incomparable beauty and control, it well deserves its place in the International Critics Poll conducted by Sight and Sound in 1962 and 1972, where it figured both times as one of the ten greatest films ever made.

  • The mood of Kenji Mizoguchi's 1953 masterpiece is evoked by the English translation most often given to its title, “Tales of the Pale and Silvery Moon After the Rain.” Based on two 16th-century ghost stories, the film is less a study of the supernatural than a sublime embodiment of Mizoguchi's eternal theme, the generosity of women and the selfishness of men. Densely plotted but as emotionally subtle as its name, Ugetsu is one of the great experiences of cinema.

  • An exquisitely realized, serenely composed allegorical film on love, greed, and betrayal. Kenji Mizoguchi's seamless fusion of poetic realism and surreal mysticism creates a rarefied atmosphere that is paradoxically beautiful and austere, redemptive and tragic, symbolizing Genjuro's coexistence between the physical and supernatural realm - a reflection of the duality of the human soul.

  • The supreme demonstration of Mizoguchi's method is the scene of the murder of the heroine in Ugetsu, staged in long shot: the wounded Kinuyo Tanaka, stabbed by bandits in a quarrel over food, crawling away in the foreground, while, in the distance, the thieves squabble over the food they have robbed from her. In its juxtaposition of high tragedy and intransigent physical realism, the scene deserves the adjective Shakespearean.

  • The film abounds in extraordinary sequences. The long crane shot at the film’s opening, establishing the setting of Genjiro’s hut. The beautiful little scene in the town where Genjiro stops to admire kimonos and imagines seeing Miyagi touching them and trying them on. The interiors extravagantly materialise around Genjiro as he enters the mansion and candles are lit from room to room. The justly celebrated love scene by the shimmering lake.

  • It is the movie’s supreme balancing act to be able to move seamlessly between the realistic and the otherworldly. Mizoguchi achieves this feat by varying the direction between a sober, almost documentary, long-distance view of mayhem and several carefully choreographed set pieces, such as the phantom ship.

  • In Ugetsu, the female characters are put through the wringer... But interestingly enough, it's the men who end up shouldering the emotional toll. With all due respect to Mizoguchi's mysterious, incantatory, gorgeous parable, is it this crucial variation on his approach to feminism that causes Ugetsu's pinnacular reputation in the film-critic boys' club?

  • No clear line of demarcation separates the realms of the real and the supernatural in Kenji Mizoguchi's 1953 masterpiece Ugetsu, and every time the director pulls out the rug, it seems freshly devastating. Though Ugetsu deserves a place among cinema's great ghost stories, its hauntings are never explicit or frightening like a horror movie; in fact, they're so subtly integrated into the narrative fabric that the film seems to exist on another plane.

  • A movie that blends lilting fable, gritty realism and elegiac ghost story so seamlessly that you can feel its cumulative power moving right through you——like the spirits within... Because Mizoguchi understands the very human condition, the film offers a deep compassion for its characters, a few, potentially despicable. And though life is bleak and certainly cruel, Mizoguchi’s inherent humanity and lyrical craftsmanship keeps his characters from being crushed outright.

  • It seems odd that a composer [Fumio Hayasaka] who worked on key Mizoguchi and Kurosawa films can remain so hidden in the shadows of time. But perhaps that is a kind of poetic justice. Ugetsu, one of the greatest films ever made, is all about darkness and light, the interpenetration of fantasy and reality, and the extreme auteur symbiosis that made it all happen. Lurking in the literal and figurative netherworld is an artist who helped make Mizoguchi's masterwork mellifluous.

  • The usual track when writing about Ugetsu, after giving some background by explaining how the story was adapted by Yoshikata Yoda from two Akinari Ueda short stories, is to highlight the film’s moments of pure cinematic bliss. And Ugetsu is full of them. Like Ophuls and later Godard, Mizoguchi was nothing if not one of the great organizers and executors of the master tracking shot. The first 20 minutes or so of Ugetsu give only hints of the brilliance to come.

  • Mizoguchi created a personal statement on some of his favorite subjects: greed, spiritual transcendence, and women’s capacity for selflessness. Formally, it is indeed close to flawless—besides the aforementioned tracking shots, the film’s mise-en-scene demonstrates limitless imagination in evoking the feudal era.

  • The film’s supernatural elements are rooted in the real, derived from themes of greed, love, and loss. The celebrated cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa lends the film an unsettling atmosphere with his constantly moving camera.

  • Playing with light and shadow in beautiful black and white, Mizoguchi maintains a dreamlike fog even when illusions are eventually shattered.

  • Kenji Mizoguchi’s staggering Ugetsu is a film of many riddles and paradoxes that unfolds with the illusory simplicity of a fable. Its initial straightforwardness, as a parable against the pitfalls of human greed, is a misdirection that leads the audience into a void in which objectivity and subjectivity intermingle, hopelessly and invigoratingly clouding rationality.

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