Ugetsu monogatari (1953)

From memory my first encounter with Mizoguchi was The Loyal 47 Ronin on SBS, then some years later I saw this at the Chauvel (part of the same retrospective where I also first saw Osaka Elegy). On re-viewing, Ugetsu strikes me again as a pretty fair introduction to Mizoguchi’s work, which it pretty much was for Western audiences… Amusing to realise this last bit of his career came out at least to some extent because the success of Rashomon at Venice in 1951 miffed Mizoguchi into seeking some of that acclaim himself. During the civil wars of the 15th century, two peasant brothers (apparently, though at least one review I’ve read is doubtful for some reason) have plans to make it big; Genjuro has visions of making lots of money selling his pottery, while Tobei’s ambitions extend more to military glory as a samurai. In the meantime their long-suffering wives (this is Mizoguchi, of COURSE they’re long-suffering) have to not only tolerate their husbands’ dreams of bettering themselves but to fight the even harder battle of surviving from one day to the next; this is still wartime after all. Tobei’s foolishness is much more obvious than Genjuro’s, clearly, but the latter will still find he’s not above making grand mistakes when he lets himself be seduced by a young lady who, well, isn’t exactly alive any more.; both of them will be sadder and wiser men by the film’s end (which isn’t exactly happy per se but it’s still gentler than Mizoguchi seems to have usually permitted). Like I said, it probably is the easiest way into Mizoguchi’s oeuvre (or at any rate it’s a lot less brutal than the Eclipse box), although I suspect that I still prefer Sansho the Bailiff (which I also saw years ago at that Chauvel retrospective). We’ll find out soon enough if I still do…


One thought on “Ugetsu monogatari (1953)

  1. Dave Blakeslee June 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    I agree that Ugetsu and Sansho make fine introductions to Mizoguchi, but seeing his older films, those set in contemporary Japan, makes it necessary for me to revisit to those two acclaimed, historical masterpieces, just to better appreciate Mizoguchi’s subtler touches. Less emphasis on the ghost story elements and Oriental exotica, etc. that impress the novice Western viewer. That Eclipse box is pretty essential to round out the picture, and I see that Life of Oharu just got added to Criterion’s Hulu Plus channel (here in the US) , so I need to fit that in sometime soon!

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