Kenji Mizoguchi was not only a contemporary of the masters Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse. Mizoguchi was their equal in his stature, film language and film output. Using complex long takes and an exceptional sense of mise en scene, to construct rich, character driven stories. From Osaka Elegy (1934) and its use of deep focus, through to The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939) with its rich visual aesthetics, on to The Life of Oharu (1952), and Sansho the Bailiff (1954). Ugetsu (1953) is most definitely his standout masterpiece. A deliciously haunting ghost tale that uses classical supernatural stories based on Ueda Akinari’s book of the same name. The film won the Silver Lion Award at the 1953 Venice Film Festival among other honours.
World naive Genjūrō, a potter from Nakanogō, takes his wares to nearby Ōmizo. He is accompanied by his fellow villager Tōbei, who dreams of becoming a samurai. Genjūrō’s wife Miyagi was warned that her husband should not be seeking profit in times of upheaval. Both decide to go anyway and take their wives with them. Tōbei’s wife Ohama refuses to go. Miyagi begs Genjūrō not to leave her, but is left on the shore with their young son, Gen’ichi, clasped to her back. What will happen now they have failed to heed a warning?
A haunting ghost tale could always be more than just the surface details suggests. Masking a commentary on the near past war, Japan’s own history of Imperialism, pre-war Japans moving into industrialisation and it moving closer to modernity. Ugetsu ruptures these points with bold conversation pieces. It uses the stories to remind and define war reflection. Almost like a ‘state of the nation’ psyche address. Not a very easy thing to do. Distance thoughts and themes from an event so near but it achieves it. Much like Marcel Carne ‘Les Enfants Du Paradis’. Here it became a base for discussions on broader topics, as there it was a knowing nod to the audience.
4K can be a thing of beauty or hit and miss. I mean this in that it can take a film to new worlds with depth, clarity, colour correction and what not. This is better than the 1080p of Eurekas but it does not add a great deal more.
Well this is where the Criterion version comes to life. Tony Rayns commentary has a lot, lot,lot going for it. He not only gives tid bit information on the director and the events surrounding say the filming on sets but also discusses the story origin and its relevance to then events. Tokuzo Tanaka, first assistant director on Ugetsu is the other standout piece. I believe it was seen before but I loved the detailing of the mind of Mizoguchi.
Special Edition Features
- New 4K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Audio commentary by critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
- Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, a 1975 documentary by Kaneto Shindo
- Two Worlds Intertwined, a 2005 appreciation of Ugetsu by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda
- Process and Production, a 2005 interview with Tokuzo Tanaka, first assistant director on Ugetsu
- Interview from 1992 with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa
- Plus: A book featuring an essay by film critic Phillip Lopate and three short stories that inspired the film