Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Running time: 94 minutes
Ugestsu or Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) is a haunting tale of love and loss by the grandfather of Japanese cinema, Kenji Mizoguchi. Described by Jean-Luc Godard as “quite simply one of the greatest of filmmakers”, Mizoguchi is credited for popularizing Japanese cinema in the West and this, his most celebrated film, is a definitive example of the Golden Age of Japanese film. Like most of Mizoguchi's films, it is set in the past, in the 16th century, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period of Japan. Based on stories by Japanese author Akinari Ueda and French writer Guy de Maupassant, it focuses on two couples who live in the farming villages close to Lake Biswas: Potter Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) and his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and peasant Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) and his wife Ohama (Mitsuko Mito). Set during a time of war, Mizoguchi's aim for the film was to convey the effects of the violence on everyday folk – both morally and physically and the daily struggle to survive: “The violence of war unleashed by those in power on a pretext of the national good must overwhelm the common people with suffering – moral and physical. Yet the commoners, even under these conditions, must continue to live and eat. This theme is what I especially want to emphasize here.” Genjuro tries to sell his wares by going on the road, to different villages, hoping to earn money, and Tobei dreams of becoming a samurai. During the film, both men pursue their dreams but, in the process, cause havoc on themselves and their wives. Mizoguchi told his cinematographer that he wanted the film to unroll seamlessly like a scroll painting and used a one shot /one scene process in long durational takes to achieve the film's palpable psychological intensity. As well as this, seventy percent of the movie was shot from a crane with a constantly moving camera to create a feeling of instability where everything is transient and life and death seem to flow seamlessly into each other. Heartbreaking, visually exquisite and otherworldly, Ugetsu is study in tragic humanism and a timeless masterpiece.
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