Ugetsu Monogatari

Film Criticism, Movies

Ugetsu, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, is a haunting film about how greed rips apart two families. The film opens with Genjûrô (Masayuki Mori) successfully selling some of his homemade pottery in a neighboring town. In hopes of making more money, he works with his brother, Tôbee (Eitarô Ozawa), who desires to become a samurai, to make more. Their dreams seem doomed after their village is raided by bandits; however, not all of their pottery was destroyed in the ambush. They decide to flee their village with Genjûrô’s wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and son and Tôbee’s wife, Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), in hopes of quickly selling their goods.

Fearing the bandits, the party tries to escape by boat but they come across another boat, the sole living survivor warns of pirates. To keep Miyagi and their son safe, Genjûrô returns them to land as the other three resume their journey. Once they reach the city, Tôbee and Genichi get separated as Tôbee takes the money from their initial sale to buy armor. While searching for Tôbee, Ohama is raped by four soldier and ends up in a brothel. Meanwhile, Genjûrô is wooed by the mysterious Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyô) and lured to her house. Their lives continue to fall apart from there.

This stretch of the Greatest Films of All Time is heavy with Japanese films. Including the next film, Seven Samurai, the late 1940s/early 1950s part of the list has five Japanese films. For the most part, they are all weighty films dealing with serious philosophical issues. Tokyo Story has much to do with establishing happiness and meaning in one’s life. Rashomon explores the nature of reality and perception. Ugetsu combines both these ideas. Genjûrô and Tôbee set out to improve their lives. Genjûrô allows himself to be seduced, but Lady Wakasa is an illusion and the house he thought he was in turns out to have been destroyed years prior. There’s a lesson to be learned: Genjûrô’s and Tôbee’s searches for happiness end badly because they turn their backs on their families to pursue their goals.

Ugetsu is often compelling and frequently exciting and full of unforgettable images; however, I found the “greed is bad/family is good” message to be heavy handed. It is often brilliant and deserving to be on the list but it won’t be high on mine.

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. Rashomon (1950)
  5. Tokyo Story (1953)
  6. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  7. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  8. City Lights (1931)
  9. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  10. Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
  11. The General (1926)
  12. The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
  13. Late Spring (1949)
  14. L’Atalante (1934)
  15. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  16. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Next Up: Seven Samurai (1954). I watched Seven Samurai many many years ago. I don’t recall much of it other than the general premise. I remember really liking it and am looking forward to seeing it again.