Tuesday, May 21, 2013
If you've never seen a Kenji Mizoguchi film or a Japanese film in general, you might as well start with Ugetsu. But if you have experience with Mizoguchi or Japanese cinema, well, there's no use talking. Ugetsu is pretty much regarded as both Mizoguchi's finest and arguably the best movie ever made in Japan. It tells a pretty simple story of a potter and an aspiring samurai in 16th century wartime Japan. Because of the war, the potter is able to become more successful than ever and the aspiring samurai also sees a chance to fulfill his dreams since men are needed in combat. What makes the film so good is that this is both the best and the worst time for these men to fulfill their potential. By chasing their dreams they compromise their families, who, because of the war situation, are in desperate need of a man to protect them. It's a simple morality tale about greed, ambition, and responsibility, seamlessly moving between being plain entertaining, darkly comedic, harshly brutal, and beautifully moving. Mizoguchi, arguably the finest movie craftsman to ever come from Japan, photographs the film not as a piece of rural realism but in a more dreamlike and lyrical manner. Nearly every shot is evocative and beautiful, his camera usually hovering above the characters like some sort of transcendent eye. I can't recall a director who constantly places the camera so high off the ground. One last thing: this is a film that uses supernatural elements, but I would not call it a supernatural film. Ghosts and magic come into play much like they do in Shakespeare's plays. They actually enhance the real-life drama.