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Ugetsu Monogatari
cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo, Sakae Ozawa, and Mitsuki Mito

director: Kenji Mizoguchi

94 minutes (PG) 1955
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
Part of the masters of cinema series, and released with the director's Oyu-Sama, Ugetsu Monogatari is an adaptation of Akinari's story from Tales Of Moonlight And Rain. The film introduced Mizoguchi to the west, and won him the Silver Lion at Venice.

In 16th century Japan, at a time of civil war, a farmer, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) earns more money than he has ever made selling the bowls and pots he makes as a sideline at market. His wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) insists that they now possess all they need but Genjuro is ambitious. His brother-in-law Tobei (Sakae Ozawa) wants to be a samurai, and fight in the war for profit, but needs armour and a spear. The three, along with Genjuro's sister Ohama (Mitsuki Mito), throw and fire a whole range of ceramic ware but are interrupted by soldiers seizing men for forced labour. The family escapes and miraculously the pots survive in the kiln. They set off across the lake to sell their wares in a larger town but are alerted to the activities of river pirates. Genjuro sets his wife and small son Genichi down on shore with instructions to return home. Genjuro, Ohama and Tobei do well at market, and while Tobei apparels himself as a warrior, Genjuro is approached by the Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) and her maidservant, who invite him back to their manor to receive payment for his pots and bowls.

Tobei deserts Ohama, who is seized by a warrior band and raped in a temple. At the home of Lady Wakasa, Genjuro is seduced and, forgetting Miyagi, accepts her offer of marriage, whiling away his days in picnics and love-making. Tobei steals the severed head of a rival general and is rewarded with rank and vassals. Returning to his old province, Tobei agrees to the pleas of his men to stop at a brothel, where he discovers Ohama who has been forced into prostitution in order to survive on her own.

Villagers shun Genjuro when he buys gifts for Lady Wakasa; a priest alerts him to his imminent death and offers to perform an exorcism. Back with his bride, the prayers and curses painted on Genjuro's body repel the Lady Wasaka, and she and her maid reveal that the lady was killed while still a virgin and has returned as a spirit to enjoy the earthly pleasures that were denied her. She wishes to return to the spirit world and takes Genjuro with her. Genjuro escapes and returns home, where he is reunited with Miyagi and Genichi, but in the morning the village headman reveals that while bringing Genichi back to safety, Miyagi was killed by soldiers. Miyagi's spirit survived long enough to see Genjuro return to his own hearth. The film ends with Genjuro, Ohama and Tobei working together, while Miyagi's spirit voice muses that now everything is as she wished but unfortunately she is dead, which is the way of the world.

There are elements of Candide in this parable, and certainly the ending echoes the notion of hard work and being content with what one is given. What starts as a conventional story is transformed by the introduction of supernatural elements, which are integrated so well that, although they are shocking and disturbing, they are almost accepted as commonplace in the culture. Small touches display Mizoguchi's artistry. When Ohama is taken away to be raped by the soldiers, the camera focuses upon her abandoned sandals by the river. Machiko Kyo as the demonic Lady Wasaka broods over Genjuro like a snake filled with erotic power. At moments of grief and distress Mizoguchi's actors turn their faces from the camera, only at the end in Miyagi's face illuminated by candlelight do we see the expression of regret and sorrow at her sacrifice.

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