Old 04-12-2009, 04:39 PM
Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu

Ugetsu (1953)

Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu" is a tale of ambition and greed that leads two men astray, resulting in some devastating consequences. They looked for their fortune elsewhere, not realizing that all the fortune they needed was already in their possession. Unfortunately, they do not realize this until the damage is already done.

Genjurô (Masayuki Mori) lives with his wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), and his son, Genichi (Ikio Sawamura), where he makes a living by producing pottery. His neighbor, Tobei (Eitarô Ozawa), has very high dreams of one day becoming a samurai, though his wife, Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), tells him that he should concentrate on his work.

The story is set in 16th century civil wars of Japan. Genjurô is going into town to sell his pottery because business is booming during wartime. Tobei wants to come along so he can follow his dream. Upon their return to the village, Tobei helps Genjurô with his pottery for a share of the profits, but an army of soldiers arrives to ransack the village, causing everyone to flee into the mountains. Luckily, the pottery is not harmed in the invasion, so Genjurô and Tobei can continue with their trip as planned, except now they must bring the women and child along for safety. Other incidents occur on the way to town causing everyone to get separated, leading to some very strange and unfortunate events.

Like with many other Japanese films, I was incredibly impressed with the level of details in the sets and the costumes. The sets range from the very humble abode of Genjurô and his family, which is not very big, but has a large enough living area for the three of them, to the large mansion-like estate of Lady Wasaka, whom Genjurô meets later in the film. The costumes are absolutely beautiful. They are done in the traditional multi-layered style of the period and are clearly shown to have been tended to with great care by costume designer Tadaoto Kainosho.

The greed and ambition of Genjurô and Tobei is an incredible thing to watch. After having made one very prosperous trip into town, Genjurô comes back to make as much pottery as he can to make a second trip, even though his wife says that they have plenty of money now. Even when the soldiers are attacking their village, he risks his life to keep the fire in his kiln going just to make sure the pottery gets finished. Tobei is no better. When they are in town selling the pottery, the second he sees a large group of samurai pass by their stall, he runs off to find a place to buy armor and a spear so he can try to join them.

It is these events in town that end up turning the tables for both men. While selling his pottery, Genjurô meets Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyô) and her attendant who wish for him to deliver some of his pottery to her house. When he does, he is invited in. Hesitantly, he goes inside and listens as Lady Wakasa tells of her love for his work, and for him. She wishes to marry him, and he is soon very much in love with her. He enjoys such simple joys with her like having a picnic.

What seemed very strange about this was how quickly he forgot about his wife and son. We learn later that he did marry Lady Wasaka, but it seems that not even once does he reflect back on the fact that he is already married before the big confrontational scene. However, there is a possible explanation for this, one that lies in the supernatural realm.

When Genjurô meets a priest in town, the priest tells him that there is an evil aura about him. When Genjurô tells the priest where he is living, the priest is shocked and explains to Genjurô that Lady Wasaka is an evil spirit. He warns Genjurô to leave or else he will die.

The scene of confrontation between Genjurô and Lady Wasaka is extraordinary. He has been blessed by the priest by having him write spells on his body. This leads Lady Wasaka's attendant to tell the whole story of why Lady Wasaka is still in the realm of the living. It is a powerfully emotional story that is delivered with such matter-of-factness that it is hard to stop paying attention.

The next scene is just as extraordinary. When Genjurô wakes up the next morning after having burst out of the house in terror and regret, he looks around to see a frame of a house that must have been destroyed a long time ago. Some kimonos remain on the old wood, but there is certainly no one living there now. He had been under the control of a lustful spirit, forgetting where his heart really lay.

His return home is shocking and heartbreaking. There is an unbroken shot of Genjurô arriving home, going through the main room, and not finding anyone. He goes back outside and around the side of the house, and reenters to find Miyagi. This would be a great joyous moment if we couldn't already tell what has happened, even before we are told.

His neighbor, Tobei, has gone through a different experience, one that is not as spiritual, though it could be argued that it is as emotionally tragic. He achieves becoming a samurai, but at the cost of having been separated from his wife, who becomes a prostitute (I hesitate to call her a "geisha" because the film never refers to her as one). As Tobei tells his wife, his accomplishment has meant nothing is she is not there to share it with him. His lesson has been learned and their relationship can begin to mend.

These men never knew what they had until it was gone. They had taken their quiet lives at home with their families for granted in pursuit of their own goals. They may have thought that they were doing it for the benefit of their own families, but their wives clearly state that they are well off and should be happy with what they have. So much tragedy could have been averted had they simply listened to their "better half." 3/4 stars.
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