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Two 16th-century Japanese men leave their families: one for a phantom princess, the other to be a samurai. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.
Hailed by critics as one of the greatest films ever made, Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu is an undisputed masterpiece of Japanese cinema, revealing greater depths of meaning and emotion with each successive viewing. Mizoguchi's exquisite "gender tragedy" is set during Japan's violent 16th-century civil wars, a historical context well-suited to the director's compassionate perspective on the plight of women and the foibles of men. The story focuses on two brothers, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) and Tobei (Sakae Ozawa), whose dreams of glory (one as a wealthy potter, the other a would-be samurai) cause them to leave their wives for the promise of success in Kyoto. Both are led astray by their blind ambitions, and their wives suffer tragic fates in their absence, as Ugetsu evolves into a masterful mixture of brutal wartime realism and haunting ghost story. The way Mizoguchi weaves these elements so seamlessly together is what makes Ugetsu (masterfully derived from short stories by Akinari Ueda and Guy de Maupassant) so challenging and yet deeply rewarding as a timeless work of art. Featuring flawless performances by some of Japan's greatest actors (including Machiko Kyo, from Kurosawa's Rashomon), Ugetsu is essential viewing for any serious lover of film. --Jeff Shannon
The Criterion Collection's high standards of scholarly excellence are on full display in the two-disc set of Ugetsu, packaged in an elegant slipcase reflecting the tonal beauty of the film itself, which has been fully restored with a high-definition digital transfer. The well-prepared commentary by critic/filmmaker Tony Rayns combines the astute observations of a serious cineaste (emphasizing a keen appreciation for Mizoguchi's long-take style, compositional meaning, and literary inspirations) with informative biographical and historical detail. In the 14-minute featurette "Two Worlds Intertwined," director Masahiro Shinoda discusses how Mizoguchi's career and films have had a lasting impact on himself and Japanese culture in general. Interviews with Tokuzo Tanaka (first assistant director on Ugetsu) and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa focus more specifically on anecdotal production history Mizoguchi's working methods, including the director's legendary perfectionism regarding painstaking details of props, costumes, and production design.
Disc 2 consists entirely of Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, a 150-minute documentary from 1975. Though it occasionally gets bogged down in biographical minutia, the film provides a thoroughly comprehensive survey of Mizoguchi's career, including interviews with nearly all of Mizoguchi's primary collaborators. Director/interviewer Kaneto Shindo ultimately arrives at an emotionally devastating coup de grace when he informs the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka (star of The Life of Oharu and other Mizoguchi classics) that Mizoguchi had considered her "the love of his life." Tanaka's graceful response provides a moving appreciation of their artistic bond, which never evolved into romance. As we learn, the tragic irony of Mizoguchi's life is that he died in sadness and suffering, in 1956, just as he was entering a more hopeful and artistically revitalized period of middle age. After showing us all the locations that were important in Mizoguchi's life, the film closes with a blunt discovery of life's ethereal nature: The great director's final home was torn down and replaced with a gas station. The 72-page booklet that accompanies Ugestu contains a well-written appreciation of the film by critic Phillip Lopate. Also included are the three short stories that inspired Ugetsu, allowing readers to see how Mizoguchi and screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda masterfully combined elements of these unrelated stories to create one of the enduring classics of Japanese cinema. --Jeff Shannon
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I Like Horror Movies
And as with all of Kenji Mizoguchi's films, the hardships that women must endure in society [be it feudal or contemporary society] are prominently displayed. The film itself revolves around two peasants in 16th-century Japan. The first protagonist is named Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) who is a potter and wants nothing else but riches in his life. He is tired of the peasant life, and believes that if he can sell enough pottery, then his life will be better. However, his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) does not really care for a life of riches, as she is happy to be a loving wife to Genjuro and their infant child. Furthermore, Miyagi is content and sees that she is already rich with what she has already been given in life: A wonderful husband and a beautiful child.
The second protagonist is named Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) who wants nothing more than to be a samurai. His wife Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) believes her husband is foolish, and that his time would be better spent at home with her. She does not see anything glamorous with the samurai way of life, and understands, unlike Tobei, that their lives together are more important than foolish dreams of a life spent apart from each other. However, neither of the two wives can convince their husbands that their lives together, no matter how poor, is greater than what the chaos of the outside world can offer them. Moreover, this is a time of civil war and hunger, and the outside world of their village is a very cruel world. And both Genjuro and Tobei are about to get a lesson in life in which it is the women who will suffer. A theme common in Kenji Mizoguchi's films.
As the films two main protagonists set out on their adventure, they both encounter what they have both longed for. For Genjuro there are riches beyond his imagination. And as for Tobei, he finds his greatest wish: He is now a great samurai. But as Mizoguchi shows [not tells the veiwer] there is a price to be paid. Yes, Genjuro has come into great riches: But at what cost? There is an element of supernatural in his adventure that I do not wish to spoil for those of you who have not seen this great classic. And as for Tobei, he becomes a samurai by default, and is rewarded with a compliment of troops. But as with Genjuro, the price he pays is too great. What he has gained, he also loses: And the loss is greater than he can endure.
Mizoguchi is able to weave a great tale showing that although both Tobei and Genjuro have gained much in the world, what they have lost is greater than either of them can bear. They have each in their own way found only a fleeting and temporal enjoyment, not realizing that what they had at home with their wives was far greater and richer than what they could ever have possibly gained. This is a great film. Moreover, the wonderful camera movement that Mizoguchi employs, and the atmospheric intensity of the two main protagonists as they journey to seek out their fame and fortune is done with utmost beauty. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is truly interested in great Japanese cinema. And this film is great! [Stars: 5+].
This is just possibly the most perfect movie ever made. OK, it's in Japanese, and in black and white, and moves at its own pace, and probably wouldn't appeal to those of you who play fast-paced video games, but relax, take a breather, and expose yourself to a type of beauty you've never experienced. Broaden your consciousness a bit. Then go back to WORLD OF WARFARE or whatever - BTW, the Japanese Civil War is being fought in Ugetsu - but just a wee bit different than you were before. Real art changes people and this is cinematic art at its best.
As with all great art, there is a moral to this story. I leave it to you to find it...if you want to.
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(1953, Japan, 97 min, b/w, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 4:3, Audio: Mono)
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