Ugetsu, Tales of Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語) is a 1953 Japanese romantic fantasy drama film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and based on stories in Ueda Akinari's book of the same name. It is a ghost story and an example of the jidaigeki (period drama) genre, starring Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyō.
1953 Japanese poster
|Directed by||Kenji Mizoguchi|
|Produced by||Masaichi Nagata|
|Written by||Matsutarō Kawaguchi|
|Based on||Ugetsu Monogatari by Akinari Ueda|
|Music by||Fumio Hayasaka|
|Edited by||Mitsuzō Miyata|
|Distributed by||Daiei Film|
Drawing its plot particularly from Ueda's tales "The House in the Thicket" and "The Lust of the White Serpent", the film is set in Azuchi–Momoyama period Japan (c. 1573–1600). It is about a peasant farmer and potter who leaves his wife and young son during civil war, and is seduced by a spirit that threatens his life. A subplot involves his friend, who dreams of becoming a great samurai and chases this goal at the unintended expense of his wife.
Major themes include the ethics of war, forbidden relationships with the spirit world, and neglect of family duty. The film won the Silver Lion Award at the 1953 Venice Film Festival and other honours. Ugetsu is one of Mizoguchi's most celebrated films, regarded by critics as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema. It is credited with simultaneously helping to popularise Japanese cinema in the West and influencing later Japanese film.
In the farming village Nakanogō, on the shore of Lake Biwa in Ōmi Province in the Sengoku period, Genjūrō, a potter, takes his wares to nearby Ōmizo. He is accompanied by Tōbei, who dreams of becoming a samurai. A respected sage tells Genjūrō's wife Miyagi to warn her husband about seeking profit in times of upheaval, and to prepare for a probable attack on the village. Genjūrō arrives with wide profits, but she asks him to stop. Genjūrō nevertheless works long hours to finish his pottery. That night, Shibata Katsuie's army sweeps through Nakanogō, and Genjūrō, Tōbei and their wives are uprooted. Genjūrō collects his pottery from the kiln, and decides to take the pots to a different marketplace. As the two couples travel across a lake, a boat appears from thick fog. The sole passenger tells them he was attacked by pirates, warns them back to their homes, then dies. The two men decide to return their wives to the shore. 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. At market, Genjūrō's pottery sells well. After taking his promised share of the profits, Tōbei runs off to buy samurai armor, and sneaks into the ranks of a clan of samurai. Lost from her companions, Ohama has wandered beyond Nagahama in her desperate search for Tōbei. She is raped by a group of soldiers.
Genjūrō is visited by a noblewoman and her female servant, who order several pieces of pottery and tell him to take them to the Kutsuki mansion. Genjūrō learns that Nobunaga's soldiers have attacked the manor and killed all who lived there, except Lady Wakasa and her servant. He also learns that Lady Wakasa's father haunts the manor. Genjūrō is seduced by Lady Wakasa, and she convinces him to marry her. Meanwhile, Nakanogō is under attack. Miyagi and her son hide from soldiers and are found by an elderly woman who hurries them to safety. In the woods, several soldiers desperately search her for food. She fights with the soldiers and is stabbed. She collapses with her son still clutching her back.
Tōbei steals the severed head of a general, which he presents to the commander of the victorious side. He is rewarded with armor, a mount, and a retinue. Tōbei later rides into the marketplace on his new horse, eager to return home to show his wife. However, he visits a brothel and finds her working there as a prostitute. Tōbei promises to buy back her honor. Later, the two return to Nakanogō, Tōbei throwing his armor into a river along the way.
Genjūrō meets a priest, who tells him to return to his loved ones or certain death awaits him. When Genjūrō mentions the noblewoman, the priest reveals that the noblewoman is dead and must be exorcised, and then invites Genjūrō to his home where he paints Buddhist prayers on his body. Genjūrō returns to the Kutsuki mansion. He admits that he is married, has a child and wishes to return home. Lady Wakasa will not let him go. She and her servant admit they are spirits, returned to this world so that Lady Wakasa, who was slain before she knew love, could experience its joys. They tell him to wash away the Buddhist symbols. Genjūrō reaches for a sword, throws himself out of the manor, and passes out. The next day, he is awakened by soldiers. They accuse him of stealing the sword, but he denies it, saying it is from the Kutsuki mansion. The soldiers laugh at him, saying the Kutsuki mansion was burned down over a month ago. Genjūrō arises and finds the mansion he has lived in is nothing more than a pile of burnt wood. The soldiers confiscate his money, but because Shibata's army burned down the prison, they leave Genjūrō in the rubble. He returns home by foot, searching for his wife.
Miyagi, delighted to see him, will not let him tell of his terrible mistake. Genjūrō holds his sleeping son in his arms, and eventually lies down to sleep. The next morning, Genjūrō wakes to the village chief knocking on his door. He is surprised to see Genjūrō home, and expresses concern. He explains that he has been caring for Genjūrō's son, and that the boy must have come to his old home in the middle of the night. Genjūrō calls for Miyagi. The neighbor asks if Genjūrō is dreaming, as his wife is dead. Miyagi's spirit tells Genjūrō: "I am always with you", while he continues on pottery, and their son offers food to her.
- Machiko Kyō as Lady Wakasa
- Mitsuko Mito as Ohama
- Kinuyo Tanaka as Miyagi
- Masayuki Mori as Genjūrō
- Eitaro Ozawa as Tōbei (as Sakae Ozawa)
- Ikio Sawamura as Genichi
- Kikue Mōri as Ukon, Lady Wakasa's Nurse
- Ryōsuke Kagawa as Village Master
- Eigoro Onoe as Knight
- Saburo Date as Vassal
- Sugisaku Aoyama as Old Priest
- Reiko Kongo as an Old Woman in Brothel
- Shozo Nanbu as Shinto Priest
- Ichirō Amano as Boatsman
- Kichijirō Ueda as Shop Owner
- Teruko Omi as Prostitute
- Keiko Koyanagi as Prostitute
- Mitsusaburō Ramon as Captain of Tamba Soldiers
- Jun Fujikawa as Lost Soldier
- Ryuuji Fukui as Lost Soldier
- Masayoshi Kikuno as Soldier
- Hajime Koshikawa
- Sugisaka Koyama as High Priest
- Ryuzaburo Mitsuoka as Soldier
- Koji Murata
- Fumihiko Yokoyama
After the success of his previous film The Life of Oharu (1952), Mizoguchi was offered to make a film by his old friend Masaichi Nagata at Daiei Film studios. The deal promised Mizoguchi complete artistic control and a large budget. Despite this, Mizoguchi was eventually pressured to make a less pessimistic ending for the film. Mizoguchi's screenwriter and long-time collaborator Yoshikata Yoda said that originally, Mizoguchi did not envision making an anti-war film, instead wishing to capture the sensations and lucidity of Ueda's book Ugetsu Monogatari.
Mizoguchi based his film on two stories from Ueda's book, "The House in the Thicket" (Asaji ga Yado) and "The Lust of the White Serpent" (Jasei no In). "The Lust of the White Serpent" is about a demon who appears as a princess and attempts to seduce a man. It was the basis of the plot in which Lady Wakasa seduces Genjūrō. "The House in the Thicket" gave the film its ending, in which the protagonist returns home after a long absence, only to meet the spirit of his lost wife. The film is set in the 16th century, though "The House in the Thicket" is set in the 15th century and "The Lust of the White Serpent" is set in an earlier time frame. Other inspirations for the film's script include Guy de Maupassant's Décoré! (How He Got the Legion of Honour). This story provided a basis for Tōbei's subplot. In the short story, the protagonist receives the French Legion of Honour by ignoring his wife's adultery with a member of the Legion. Similarly, Tōbei becomes a samurai while his wife becomes a prostitute.
Despite initial intentions, as the film developed, Yoda said anti-war messages, particularly about how war makes women suffer, kept surfacing and soon became the most prominent theme. While writing the script, Mizoguchi told Yoda "Whether war originates in the ruler's personal motives, or in some public concern, how violence, disguised as war, oppresses and torments the populace both physically and spiritually ... I want to emphasise this as the main theme of the film". During the shooting Yoda was constantly rewriting and revising scenes due to Mizoguchi's perfectionism.
The film was Machiko Kyō's second collaboration with Mizoguchi, as she had a small role in The Three Danjuros (1944). She had collaborated much more frequently with Masayuki Mori. As Lady Wakasa, Kyō's costume was modeled after fashion before the Edo period and her face was designed to appear similar to a mask common in Noh theatre. As such, her eyebrows were styled using a practice known as hikimayu.
Kinuyo Tanaka, who played Miyagi, found the scene where she is a ghost to be the most stressful, as she had to play a ghost and appear to be an actual wife at the same time. After rehearsals and the shooting, Mizoguchi lit a cigarette for Mori, indicating his rare degree of satisfaction with the scene. Eitaro Ozawa, who played Tōbei, said the actors frequently rehearsed alone, or with the cinematographer, while Mizoguchi was willingly absent during these preparations.
Mizoguchi told his cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa that he wanted the film "to unroll seamlessly like a scroll-painting". The Southern School of Chinese painting was particularly an inspiration the filmmakers aspired to. The film has been praised for its cinematography, such as the opening shot and the scene where Genjūrō and Lady Wakasa have sex by a stream and the camera follows the flow of the water instead of lingering on the two lovers. Mizoguchi never personally handled the camera and did not participate in planning the lighting of his film. To achieve the appearance the filmmakers wanted, Miyagawa kept lighting low and filmed as near to sunset as circumstances would allow. Many of the shots were taken from cranes, with Miyagawa claiming in 1992 that these shots made up 70% of the film. Miyagawa also stated that this film was the only occasion in which Mizoguchi complimented him for his camera work.
The set depicting Kutsuki Manor was based on the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto. These sets are decorated with props evocative of feudal-era aristocrats, such as kimono and armor, personally chosen by Mizoguchi. The scene where the protagonists travel through Lake Biwa on a boat was in fact shot on a pool in the studio, with added smoke. The assistant directors had to push the boat through the cold waters. Miyagawa identified this as one of the scenes shot from a crane.
For the film score, Mizoguchi relied on composer Fumio Hayasaka and the assistant directors, and was not involved in their creative process. Fumio Hayasaka was a strong proponent of using Japanese music in Japanese films, though he incorporated several elements of Western music as well. For Ugetsu, he employed geza music, common in Kabuki theatre. Additional, uncredited composers were Ichirō Saitō and Tamekichi Mochizuki, whose music was blended with Hayasaka's, and could provide accurate music reflective of the period.
According to Professor Martha P. Nochimson, a common interpretation of the film is that Mizoguchi refashioned the stories of Ugetsu Monogatari to express regret about the pro-war extremism leading to World War II, with Mizoguchi personally having made the pro-war propaganda film The 47 Ronin in 1941. These reflections on militarism, greed and arrogance connected with audiences not only in Japan but around the world in the wake of the war. The subplot of Tōbei and Ohama particularly reflects the comfort women, who were made into prostitutes by the Imperial Japanese Army. Mizoguchi struggled with Daiei to give the subplot an unhappier ending than what appears in the film, in line with real comfort women's experiences after the war. Tōbei's subplot reveals the mistake of war can also be a "tragicomedy".
According to British critic Tony Rayns the film's presentation of the vanity of a man, neglecting his family, is a critique of historic men in feudal Japanese culture. In his relationship with Wakasa, Genjūrō is insignificant and is seduced by something greater, that he can never comprehend. However, by neglecting his family, Genjūrō failed to appreciate he has already been blessed with a good life, and in the process, loses it.
As a ghost story, the film delves into a relationship between a spirit and a living person, which runs contrary to nature and will lead to the death of the person. Although ghosts are not mentioned in the initial parts of the film, Japanese writer Kazushi Hosaka stated Mizoguchi foreshadowed it using the scenery, which suggests a detachment from real life. The scene where the protagonists cross Lake Biwa is an example, given the fogs that turn the film away from the jidaigeki genre. Professor Robin Wood argues that the film's depiction of the main ghost character evolves from the mere demon of "The Lust of the White Serpent" into the more humane and tragic Lady Wakasa, and this makes the story more complex. Wood further opines the combination of the story with "The House in the Thicket," combining the male protagonist of each tale into one character, Genjūrō, also connects the demon character and the ghost wife. Both Lady Wakasa and Miyagi are killed by a male-dominated society, and both are wronged by Genjūrō. Wood believes Ugetsu can be considered a feminist film for its exploration of the negative impact of a patriarchy.
Genjūrō's pottery is also a major theme in the film. Professor Wood argues his pottery evolves in three phases, reflecting Mizoguchi's changing approach to filmmaking. Genjūrō begins making the pottery for commercial reasons, shifts to pure aesthetics while isolated with Lady Wakasa, and finally moves on to a style that reflects life and strives to understand it.
Ugetsu was released in Japan on 26 March 1953. It was shown at the 1953 Venice Film Festival. Accompanied by Yoda and Kinuyo Tanaka, Mizoguchi made his first trip outside Japan to attend the festival. He spent most of his time in Italy inside his hotel room praying to a scroll with a portrait of Nichiren. While in Venice he met director William Wyler, whose film Roman Holiday was also screening in competition at the festival and was rumoured to be the winner of the Silver Lion for best director. The film opened in New York City on 7 September 1954, with the English title Ugetsu being a truncation of Ugetsu Monogatari, the Japanese title, from Ueda's book. It was distributed elsewhere in the United States by Harrison Pictures under the title Tales of Ugetsu on 20 September 1954.
In September 2006, Film Forum screened the film in New York City over six days, opening a Mizoguchi tribute. A 4K digital restoration also screened as part of the Cannes Classics section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, and the 54th New York Film Festival. The restoration "was undertaken by The Film Foundation and Kadokawa Corporation at Cineric Laboratories in New York".
Ugetsu was released on VHS by Home Vision Entertainment, with English subtitles. On 8 November 2005, the film became available for the first time on Region 1 DVD when the Criterion Collection released a two-disc edition of the film, which includes numerous special features such as a 150-minute documentary on Mizoguchi, Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, directed by Kaneto Shindo. The box-set also includes a booklet with an essay by Keiko I. McDonald, the author of Mizoguchi and editor of Ugetsu, and the three short stories from which the film draws inspiration. The film was released on Blu-Ray through the Criterion Collection years later, with all the features included.
In April 2008, Ugetsu Monogatari was released in the U.K. on Region 2 DVD by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The two-disc special edition containing new transfers is released in a double pack which twins it with Mizoguchi's film Miss Oyu (1951). This U.K. set was released on Blu-ray on 23 April 2012.
Ugetsu is often regarded as a masterwork of Japanese cinema and a definitive piece during Japan's Golden Age of Film. It is one of a number of films arguably more popular in western countries than in Japan. Japanese film historian Tadao Satō remarked that while this film, along with Mizoguchi's other works of the period The Crucified Lovers and Sansho the Bailiff, was probably not meant specifically to be sold to westerners as an "exotic" piece, it was perceived by studio executives as the kind of film that would not necessarily make a profit in Japanese theaters but would win awards at international film festivals.
The film was immediately popular in western countries and praised by such film critics as Lindsay Anderson and Donald Richie. Richie called it "one of the most perfect movies in the history of Japanese cinema" and especially praised the beauty and morality of the film's opening and closing shots. Richie analyzed how the film starts with "a long panorama" and shots spanning from a lake to the shore and the village. He judged the ending's "upward tilting panorama" from the grave to above to reflect the beginning. Bosley Crowther, in The New York Times, wrote that the film had "a strangely obscure, inferential, almost studiedly perplexing quality". Variety staff praised the film's visuals for reminiscence to Japanese prints, costumes and set design, and the performances of Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyō.
The film appeared in Sight & Sound magazine's top 10 critics poll of the greatest films ever made, which is held once every decade, in 1962 and 1972. Ugetsu currently holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews, with a weighted average of 9.45/10. The site's critical consensus states, "With its thought-provoking themes, rich atmosphere, and brilliant direction, Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu monogatari [sic] is a towering classic of world cinema". Roger Ebert added Ugetsu to his Great Movies list in 2004, calling it "one of the greatest of all films", and said that "At the end of Ugetsu, aware we have seen a fable, we also feel curiously as if we have witnessed true lives and fates". Director Martin Scorsese has also listed it as one of his favourite films of all time. In 5001 Nights at the Movies, film critic Pauline Kael found it to be "subtle, violent yet magical", and termed Ugetsu as "one of the most amazing of the Japanese movies that played American art houses". In 2000, The Village Voice newspaper ranked Ugetsu 29th on their list of the 100 best films of the 20th century.
Ugetsu won the Silver Lion Award for Best Direction at the Venice Film Festival in 1953. The night before, Mizoguchi, believing that if the film did not win an award the shame would prevent him from returning to Japan, stayed in his hotel room and prayed. In Japan it was named third in Kinema Junpo's Best Ten for Japanese films of 1953. and won two awards at the 8th Mainichi Film Awards.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Academy Awards||21 March 1956||Best Costume Design, Black and White||Tadaoto Kainosho||Nominated|
|Kinema Junpo Awards||1953||Best Ten||Ugetsu Monogatari||Won|
|Mainichi Film Awards||1953||Best Sound Recording||Iwao Ōtani||Won|
|Best Art Direction||Kisaku Itō||Won|
|Ministry of Education||1953||Cinematography||Kazuo Miyagawa||Won|
|Venice Film Festival||20 August – 4 September 1953||Silver Lion||Kenji Mizoguchi||Won|
|Pasinetti Award||Kenji Mizoguchi||Won|
Along with Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon (1950), Ugetsu is credited with having popularised Japanese cinema in the West. The film, and Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story, released the same year, particularly created awareness of other Japanese filmmakers. Mizoguchi cemented his reputation among film aficionados in Europe with his film Sansho the Bailiff (1954). Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff made an impact on French New Wave directors Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, and U.S. director Paul Schrader, who sought Kazuo Miyagawa for advice on the film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985).
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