Ugetsu - Criterion Collection (1953)
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Hailed by critics as one of the greatest films ever made, Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu is an undisputed masterpiece of Japanese cinema, revealing greater depths of meaning and emotion with each successive viewing. Mizoguchi's exquisite "gender tragedy" is set during Japan's violent 16th-century civil wars, a historical context well-suited to the director's compassionate perspective on the plight of women and the foibles of men. The story focuses on two brothers, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) and Tobei (Sakae Ozawa), whose dreams of glory (one as a wealthy potter, the other a would-be samurai) cause them to leave their wives for the promise of success in Kyoto. Both are led astray by their blind ambitions, and their wives suffer tragic fates in their absence, as Ugetsu evolves into a masterful mixture of brutal wartime realism and haunting ghost story. The way Mizoguchi weaves these elements so seamlessly together is what makes Ugetsu (masterfully derived from short stories by Akinari Ueda and Guy de Maupassant) so challenging and yet deeply rewarding as a timeless work of art. Featuring flawless performances by some of Japan's greatest actors (including Machiko Kyo, from Kurosawa's Rashomon), Ugetsu is essential viewing for any serious lover of film. --Jeff Shannon
The Criterion Collection's high standards of scholarly excellence are on full display in the two-disc set of Ugetsu, packaged in an elegant slipcase reflecting the tonal beauty of the film itself, which has been fully restored with a high-definition digital transfer. The well-prepared commentary by critic/filmmaker Tony Rayns combines the astute observations of a serious cineaste (emphasizing a keen appreciation for Mizoguchi's long-take style, compositional meaning, and literary inspirations) with informative biographical and historical detail. In the 14-minute featurette "Two Worlds Intertwined," director Masahiro Shinoda discusses how Mizoguchi's career and films have had a lasting impact on himself and Japanese culture in general. Interviews with Tokuzo Tanaka (first assistant director on Ugetsu) and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa focus more specifically on anecdotal production history Mizoguchi's working methods, including the director's legendary perfectionism regarding painstaking details of props, costumes, and production design.
Disc 2 consists entirely of Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, a 150-minute documentary from 1975. Though it occasionally gets bogged down in biographical minutia, the film provides a thoroughly comprehensive survey of Mizoguchi's career, including interviews with nearly all of Mizoguchi's primary collaborators. Director/interviewer Kaneto Shindo ultimately arrives at an emotionally devastating coup de grace when he informs the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka (star of The Life of Oharu and other Mizoguchi classics) that Mizoguchi had considered her "the love of his life." Tanaka's graceful response provides a moving appreciation of their artistic bond, which never evolved into romance. As we learn, the tragic irony of Mizoguchi's life is that he died in sadness and suffering, in 1956, just as he was entering a more hopeful and artistically revitalized period of middle age. After showing us all the locations that were important in Mizoguchi's life, the film closes with a blunt discovery of life's ethereal nature: The great director's final home was torn down and replaced with a gas station. The 72-page booklet that accompanies Ugestu contains a well-written appreciation of the film by critic Phillip Lopate. Also included are the three short stories that inspired Ugetsu, allowing readers to see how Mizoguchi and screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda masterfully combined elements of these unrelated stories to create one of the enduring classics of Japanese cinema. --Jeff Shannon
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Top Customer Reviews
On the negative side, this movie is currently only available on VHS. I confess to being frustrated with all of my Beta movies and now all of my VHS movies seeming to head towards obsolescence. However, I have come to appreciate the quality as well as the other features of DVD's. Thus I found myself immediately focussing on the occassional snap, crackle, and pop of the VHS quality.Read more ›
Mizoquchi after this film earned the reputation of becoming a great "women's director", and the performances by Kinuyo Tanaka (who plays Genjuro's wife) and Ikio Sawamura (Tobei's wife) are standouts. And at times do steal the scenes, as does a wonderful performance from Machiko Kyo (Lady Wakasa).
"Ugetsu" is considered by some critics and filmgoers as one of the most beautiful films ever made. It was even once listed in "sight & sound"s poll as one of the ten greatest films ever. And such acclaim is rightfully deserved. It is a masterful piece of work. People should make an efort to see it. It has a lasting effect.
Bottom-line: The kind of movie you wish wouldn't end. Contains standout acting from the entire cast and memorable cinematography. One of the all-time best.
The basic plot of Ugetsu involves two peasants who go off to seek fame and fortune. Their adventures end up having disastrous consequences for their wives. Mizoguchi's films often focus on the plight of women who are victimized by greedy and selfish men. Another theme is how a woman's love can save a man from his follies. In his own life, Mizoguchi reportedly despised his father. His mother died when he was a teenager and his elder sister was sold as a Geisha.
Ugetsu has many other themes, including the illusionary nature of life. But if all of this seems too heavy, just enjoy the movie for its stunning cinematography. You won't be disappointed.
Most recent customer reviews
Saw this on independent film channel years ago. Loved this movie. Also "Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director", a 150-minute documentary from 1975 is included with... Read morePublished 9 months ago by d
Ugetsu is a film that separates itself from both period pieces of its time and from Japanese film of any era. Read morePublished on Aug. 15 2007 by Rob Larmer
This is a very beautiful movie. My favorite scene is where the potter and Lady Mikasa are having what looks like a picnic by the sea. Read morePublished on April 27 2004 by swtthing
Set in the 16th century, Ugetsu is the story of two impoverished families from a small village and the tragedy that befalls both as the male heads of the household seek selfish,... Read morePublished on Feb. 15 2004 by K Scheffler
This is a beautifully shot movie. Mizoguchi is a great director of the plight of women in old Japan. Read morePublished on June 11 2003 by Yumi
This movie was not the "Masterpiece" that so many have called it. Sure there are a lot of beautiful scenes, but the acting was pretty overdone, at least as far as the... Read morePublished on Sept. 10 2001
As much as I adore Kurosawa, I was very glad to get to see Ugetsu Monotagari. This is acknowledged as an enormous classic of Japanese film, but because of the cross-over of... Read morePublished on April 3 2001 by Joanna Daneman
Eerie, spellbinding, mystical...Try though I might, it is difficult to convey in words how magical and powerful this movie is. Read morePublished on Jan. 15 2001 by John B
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