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54 Ugetsu monogatari 
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Post Re: 54 Ugetsu monogatari 1953
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Ugetsu 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.

Mon Aug 10, 2009 1:21 am
Post Re: 54 Ugetsu monogatari 1953

Really great comments. i enjoyed reading this alot. Thanks

If we know that we have only a few thousand evenings left to live why on earth do we watch such crap when movies like this are waiting to be discovered?


Mon Aug 10, 2009 12:06 pm
Post Re: 54 Ugetsu monogatari 1953
Robert Holloway wrote:

Really great comments. i enjoyed reading this alot. Thanks

If we know that we have only a few thousand evenings left to live why on earth do we watch such crap when movies like this are waiting to be discovered?


Thanks for the kind words, Rob. Your question will never fail to be 100% valid at least 99.999999999999999999% of the time. I'm done with movies (at least for a long while) that have been built for pacification alone. Screw G.I. Joe. Screw Transformers 2 (and, in a bit, Transformers 3). If I'm looking for a guilty pleasure I'll put in my copy of [u=http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0080889/]Hopscotch[/u] and feel bad about it never. I'm building a list of films I intend to see over the next X many years. It's currently at 170. When I'm done with those I'll catch the tail-end of Transformers 4: Rise of the Electric Poodle as I switch off the television.

Speaking of which... took the plunge and shelled out the money for a HDTV. Playtime was the first thing run through the set and... oh man.

Tue Aug 11, 2009 12:37 am
Post Re: 54 Ugetsu monogatari
I liked this. The film has a sort of ethereal quality to it, so that when things shift to the fantastic it's not particularly jarring. As has been pointed out, Ugetsu is a "message movie", but thankfully it never forces its point down our throats. Its message, as majoraphasia so eloquently pointed out, is to work on what you have rather than chase foolish dreams.

Coincidentally, I saw Ozu's Tokyo Story in the same week as Ugetsu and they make for an interesting visual contrast. Both directors have exquisitely crafted visuals, but Ozu prefers a totally static camera whereas Mizoguchi's is much more fluid.

My only complaint is that I never fully connected with the film. Curiously, I seem to like it more on paper than on celluloid. I still like it (a lot), but I just could not love it. 8/10.

Sat Dec 05, 2009 1:44 pm
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Post Re: 54 Ugetsu monogatari
It’s sixteenth century Japan, the time of the civil wars. A poor farmer/potter sees a chance to profit from the wars by selling his pots in the city, and when his first effort is successful, the vision of riches goes to his head. His neighbor accompanies him with visions of becoming a samurai, which is sort of difficult when you can’t afford armor or a sword (not to mention being an idiot). However, times are dangerous, armies are impressing peasants into service and raiding the towns for supplies, there are pirates on the lakes, and going into town means leaving their women and children unguarded, which is really not a good idea in times like these.

The story takes them to the height of fortune and disastrous depths, both from the chances offered by war. The vision of riches leads to beguilement by a ghost and near death, while the vision of being a samurai leads to a life without honor and a rape in a Buddhist temple.

This is my first Mizoguchi film, and it’s excellent in its storytelling, pace and direction. Mizoguchi was famous for his long takes, which work spectacularly. I was especially impressed by the black and white cinematography. This is one of the best-looking films I’ve ever seen. ***** of *****.

Evil does not wear a bonnet!--Mr. Tinkles

Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:23 am
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