of Cinema brings us another value-for-money pairing of Japanese
classics, this time headed by Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1953 masterpiece
Ugetsu Monogatari (roughly translated as Tales
of the Rain and Moon). Based on a pair of 18th century tales,
this ghost story sets the scene for several Japanese horror classics
over the next couple of decades – Onibaba,
Kwaidan, Kuroneko amongst them,
as well as bleak, atmospheric and quietly unsettling films like
In 16th century Japan, civil war is raging but for farmers Genjuru
(Mori Masayuki) and Tobei (Ozawa Sakae), the conflict means opportunity.
Genjuru is a potter who can sell his wares and Tobei is a wannabe
Samurai, who needs money to buy a spear and armour in order to
stand a chance of following his dream. While their long-suffering
wives Miyagi (Tanaka Kinuyo) and Ohama (Mito Mitsuko) try to bring
them down to Earth, the four eventually set out for the city where
fate will take them all in different directions. Genjuro is seduced
by the ghost of Lady Wakasa (Kyo Machiko) and soon finds himself
in a strange marriage to her, while Tobei finds the severed head
of a local warlord and, pretending to have killed him, uses it
to find position with a local chieftain. Their wives, meanwhile,
are left to fend for themselves, which they do in increasingly
desperate and tragic ways.
shot and dripping with atmosphere, Ugetsu is
every bit as good as you would hope it to be. Filmed in long,
often static takes, the film nevertheless has a real dynamic fluidity
to it, and a palpable sense of tragedy as the two men, blinded
by ambition, abandon everything they hold dear.
some genuinely eerie moments created by both visuals and the understated
music score, this is a quietly creepy, powerfully atmospheric
movie that remains a masterclass in understated horror.
Also included on this release is Mizoguchi’s 1951 melodrama
Oyu-Sama. This is a less impressive production,
though still a solid enough effort in its own right. A tale of
forbidden and unrequited love, it stars Yuji Hori as Shinnosuke,
a young man heading for an arranged marriage in 1930’s Japan
– a nation still very much caught between tradition and
the modern age. On meeting his potential bride-to-be, he instead
immediately falls for her older sister Oyu (Kinuyo Tanaka). A
widowed mother, Oyu is forbidden to remarry by society and family
tradition, and so Sinnosuke marries the younger Oshizu (Nobuko
Otowa), living an unconsummated marriage life with the young woman
who has sacrificed her own happiness for that of her sister. What
follows is a frustrated three way love triangle where no one can
be with the person they want.
It’s an effective, efficient love story, if a somewhat slight
one. Tanaka seems a bit too forward for someone constrained by
strict rules of etiquette, and never really does anything to make
us understand why she would instantly become the object of desire
for this young man, but Mizoguchi handles his thin material with
skill and creates a degree of erotic tension between the three.
It’s certainly the lesser of the two films here, but well
worth seeing nonetheless and a welcome addition to the disc.
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