Review: Ugetsu (1953)
Ugetsu, or Ugetsu monogatari (1953)
In the civil wars of 16th century Japan, two ambitious peasants place making their fortunes above all else. Pottery maker Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) plans to peddle his wares for profit in the local city, while his brother-in-law Tobei (Eitarô Ozawa) longs to become a samurai. Their village is sacked by the marauding armies, but Genjuro’s kiln miraculously survives, and they and their wives Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) head for the city. However, at the threat of danger from pirates, Genjuro sends Miyagi back home, promising to return to her soon, and Tobei, in his lust to follow the samurai, abandons his wife Ohama. Meanwhile, a wealthy noblewoman, the Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyô), shows an interest in Genjuro’s pots and tricks him into marrying her.
Without spoiling too much, director Kenji Mizoguchi‘s Ugetsu is a chilling ghost story and neat little morality play. An extended meditation on a trinity of feminine powers – female lust, female rage, and female patience – the men may run the show, but find themselves bending to the will of women one way or another. Ugetsu is a beautifully shot film, with the kind of sparse design and precise visual composition one might expect from Japanese cinema, but it’s a great kick off to Japaanese Divas programme, proving Divas come in all forms, from Mito’s shrill nag to Kyo’s sensual temptress to, most powerful of all, Tanaka’s reserved help meet.
Where to see Ugetsu
Ugestsu is playing at TIFF Bell Light Box as part of the TIFF Cinematheque programme Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema’s Golden Age. This programme is part of Spotlight Japan (January – April), a city-wide festival celebrating classic and contemporary Japanese culture for which five of Toronto’s leading cultural institutions came together (the Japan Foundation, TIFF, Canadian Stage, The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and Soundstreams).
Ugetsu screens on Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm.
Galley of Images from Ugetsu