Set in 16th-century Japan, this lyrical, enchanting film by Mizoguchi is one of Japanese cinema's greatest masterpieces. As civil warfare ravages the land, Genjuro and Tobei (Mori and Ozawa), peasant potters, dream of finding glory. They risk their own and their families' lives making
pottery to sell at market and then head for the big city. Genjuro leaves his wife behind when he is taken in by a noblewoman (Kyo) who is not what she seems. Tobei, meanwhile, pursues his longstanding desire to become a samurai, something he achieves when, with extreme luck, he manages to kill an
established warrior. What happens to the two men's wives (Tanaka and Mito), however, is another story.
Mizoguchi's background as a painter shows in the lovely and artful compositions he sets before the viewer. The image of Lady Wukasa, her servant,and Genjuro trekking through the high reeds is, among many others, unforgettable. Mizoguchi, however, does not neglect the soundtrack, and the use of
offscreen sound during such moments as the opening approach of the raiders skillfully suggests the threat to village life. The aesthetic appeal of UGETSU, however, is not merely indulged for its own sake; rather, the film uses the resources of film to explore a recurrent theme in this filmmaker's
work. Like a painter determined to catch one vista in canvas after canvas, Mizoguchi considers how the price of indulging men's desires is often the suffering of women. This is done in individual shots (e.g. the highway robbers in the background gorging themselves on food the victimized Miyagi was
carrying) as well as in the film as a whole. On another level the film can be read as paralleling the plight of post-WWII Japan. Either way, the film's subtle mix of realism and fantasy (consider a tracking shot with a near-invisible dissolve which "impossibly" links a sensual bath with a picnic)
makes for challenging viewing. Working within Japanese genre conventions which seek to validate traditional values, Mizoguchi also considers their inherent contradictions. Look carefully at the pan and tracking shot as the errant Genjuro thinks he's returning to home and hearth near the end and
you will witness a great moment in the history of cinema as both art and social commentary.
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- Review: Set in 16th-century Japan, this lyrical, enchanting film by Mizoguchi is one of Japanese cinema's greatest masterpieces. As civil warfare ravages the land, Genjuro and Tobei (Mori and Ozawa), peasant potters, dream of finding glory. They risk their own and… (more)
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