Saturday, August 16, 2014
Japan during the civil war in the 16th century. Poor farmers Genjuro and Tobei figure they can make a huge profit by selling their pottery and take huge risks by travelling towards the settlements near the front lines. During a raid on a village, they have to hide in the hill. Upon repossessing their pots, Genjuro and Tobei leave their wives, Miyagi and Ohama, and take a dangerous journey to sell their wares in a village alone. Genjuro is seduced by the mysterious Lady Wakasa who brings him to her mansion, where he forgets all about his family and enjoys the luxury there. Tobei leaves his family as well, to be a samurai, but later regrets it when he finds his neglected wife became a prostitute to survive. When Genjuro wants to leave the mansion, Lady Wakasa disappears and he figures she was a ghost. He returns to his wife, Miyagi, but the next morning, she is gone and he is informed that she was killed long ago by a soldier.
One of Kenji Mizoguchi's last films, "Ugetsu" is a bitter morality tale about abandoning and neglecting what you have for trying to obtain something you cannot have. In presenting two husbands, Genjuro and Tobei, who forget about their families for either a new woman, Lady Wakasa, or the career of a samurai, Mizoguchi crafts a quiet, calm and ambitious period piece about the delicate balance of things in the world, of the old saying "you cannot have a cake and eat it, too", whereas Lady Wakasa, who is revealed to be a ghost, may even be only an allegory of illusionary dreams. A few sequences drag, though, or feel slightly too dry and conventional at times, which lowers the overall enjoyment value of "Ugetsu". The two most memorable moments are the long, excruciating scene where a soldier stabs Miyagi, who continues to crawl on the meadow and slowly die, while her child is crying while still holding on to her back, and the other is the very touching ending. "Ugetsu" is a very good film - but great it is not. One should openly reject the polls by Sight & Sound who regularly place it among the "best films of all time", which, it must be said, is overrated and misleading: for all its effort and care, it is easily overtrumped by the much fresher and livelier, sadly forgotten classic "A Chinese Ghost Story" made 34 years later.