Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)

“At the end of ‘Ugetsu,’ aware we have seen a fable, we also feel curiously as if we have witnessed true lives and fates.”

‘Ugetsu Monogatari’ is a 1953 Japanese movie directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. It’s an historical ghost story set in the 16th century about two couples in a small village, the two men, driven by greed and envy, leave their wives to find money and fame with tragic consequences. It’s not a creepy film. Unlike western ghost stories, here the ghosts represent the fantasies of the men and the unreality of their desires and as reflections of their guilt, rather than as aggressive or threatening memento mori. As such these scenes are shot with light and shadow rather than what we would think of as spectrally conventional visual effects. The fates of the women: one raped, the other attacked by soldiers, are shown simply but brutally. The power of this film is in the elegant and apparently simple way it is shot. It’s a fable, so the story is straightforward, but, like Ozu, Mizoguchi’s direction and sense of each visual moment transcends the movie beyond a moral fairy-tale. Somehow, in ways I can’t quite get my head around, he uses the movement of the camera (unlike Ozu whose cameras are static) to elevate the story and to connect the trials and experiences of the characters on screen with those of the audience. It accesses primal emotions and the end, beautifully shot, gives a real sense of both an emotional and moral conclusion.

Would I recommend it? Yes, watch with Ozu or perhaps, for contrast, Kurosawa. There are bits that reminded me visually of ‘Throne of Blood’.

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