Re: 54 Ugetsu monogatari 1953
IN DREAMSUgetsu monogatari
is going to defy modern audiences in a way that, should it be approached recklessly, will turn them away from this film permanently. Rob addressed this but it needs to be mentioned once again. In no way should Ugetsu
be mistaken for an evening's romp at the theatre. This is a challenging, albeit relatively simple, film that plants the seeds of family, honor, sacrifice, and confusion that turn out to be some of the more fundamental themes explored in the superior Sansho The Bailiff
This time out we've got a farmer who desires the life of a samurai, a potter who desires the life of a rich man, and those that are (mostly) unfortunately associated with them. I stood outside of Ugetsu
for most of its running time, attempting to understand what it must have been like to see this movie at the time of its release. Japan, fresh off a war, had this film to look forward to. And what does it all mean? The themes -- living for the sake of dream, unwittingly sacrificing for the sake of a dream, having to retreat to living a dream for the sake of a dream -- are familiar enough but Ugetsu felt almost impossible to penetrate. Perhaps, coming off Sansho the Bailiff
, my mind was promising this would be a tour de force when, in fact, it's not. Well, not exactly.
A movie this simple, so elegant and quiet, couldn't be called a tour de force performance because there haven't been any stops set up in need of any pulling. As we grow to know the characters (the desperate, confused, sad, and dream-bound Genjuro and his double of Tobei, a man who literally runs at the chance to become a samurai) we see that Kenji Mizoguchi must be telling us something about the mindset of post-war Japan. It is for that audience that this film most pertains. What are we to do with it?
It took some time but, as these things go, the film bore into me and developed into something incredible. To chase off the movie as only playing for a selective audience I forgot to embrace the very simplicity of it -- chasing the childish dream (very, very reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo
believing he must be a detective because he's wearing the uniform) is something that is best left to those in the position to chase. Genjuro leaves his wife and his child for a ghost, Tobei is living a lie when dressed as a samurai. There's something genuinely heartbreaking in the look Tobei gives, in full armor, when he sees his wife after a long time away from her. Why would he think he could fool himself?
The film is sweet-natured and genuine, a real snapshot of 1953 (or so I imagine) and a nice, quiet warning for modern audiences. It will likely hold up when viewed in the light of its time in history (I'll be re-watching it next month after learning as much as I can about those things I may have missed in my survey of history) but, for now, Ugetsu
works for me as a sad dream of how, if you put your mind to it, you can lose everything while leaving nothing behind. Rob gives it an 8/10 and I'd move that just a little bit lower to a 7. That is to say, this film is about 75% as incredible as Sansho the Bailiff
. It just didn't speak to me as loudly.
NOTE: Again, Criterion's transfer is just as beautiful as anyone could have hoped for. Kenji Mizoguchi's camera is always moving moving moving and he frames his shots as wonderfully as his far more famous contemporary Kurosawa. Mizoguchi is a true poet and, even if Ugetsu
doesn't drive as deeply as Sansho
, his film is never far removed from a brilliantly caught moment.