Ugetsu (1953) – Kenji Mizoguchi

The next title recommended by the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of Ran, is this brilliant film that follows the fortunes of two peasant families during a civil war.

Operating a kiln, and making wares, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) sees a chance to get rich with the selling of his increasingly popular cups and plates. His wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) helps him, while also looking after their child.

His neighbor, Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) dreams of being a samurai if only he could get the equipment he needs.

As the film unfolds, both men get the things they want, but don’t realise the cost of their desires, and what it means for their families.

The film is based off a series of stories, that balance realistic events with the fantastic, and the reveals when they happen in this film, as relating to the fantastical side of things, are just delivered in stride as if they are everyday events.

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There are moments of humour, and some of pathos, and watching the highs and lows both men, and their families reach or fall to over the course of the film are done entertainingly well.

The gentle melding of ideas and events help the film transition from a down in the dirt struggling to survive drama to a beautiful film that deals with the heart, and the dreams that should sometimes, rightly, exceed our grasp, allowing us to realise how good we actually have it, even if we don’t believe it.

When families are reunited by the end of the tale, you know they will all be changed and affected by things that happened, some irrevocably so, and the viewer, too, is left in that state, genuinely moved by the story that has played out before them.

Beautifully composed and shot, the film is engaging, and both leads get a chance to follow their character arcs to their resolution.

I like how Mizoguchi doles out his story, and the sets, and the design have a minimalist feel to things, that somehow augments the emotional angles of the film. Of the tales interwoven throughout the film, it is Genjuro’s story that I most enjoyed, and you truly see a change in the character by film’s end – the events have left their mark on him.

This was yet another film that I had never heard of until I came across it in the book, and it made for a very enjoyable watch, while illustrating the differences between Eastern and Western film making, and storytelling, the most prominent of which is the idea of fantastical events being an everyday occurrence.

This one is well worth the watch.

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