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Ugetsu
(Ugetsu monogatari)

Screening on Film
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.
With Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo, Kinuyo Tanaka.
Japan, 1953, 35mm, black & white, 97 min.
Japanese with English subtitles.
Print source: HFA

After the triumph of The Life of Oharu at Venice, Mizoguchi and Tanaka were once more in the international spotlight after Ugetsu won a top prize at the festival with its mesmerizing blending of jidaigeki and the fantastical ghost stories rising in popularity during the postwar years. A haunting meditation on human folly punctuated with grim humor, Ugetsu unspools parallel stories of two impoverished potters trying to find wealth in the midst of war. Abandoning their wives, they each pursue differently twisted but equally foolhardy paths toward riches and fame. As the wife of Masayuki Mori’s greed-blinded husband, Tanaka is the conscience of the film, a moving emblem of devotion and hearthfire solidity, held up in contrast to the bewitching noblewoman played by Machiko Kyo who threatens to steal her husband. Tanaka is also the central figure in two devastating and now legendary scenes that count among the high points of Mizoguchi’s lyrically expressive cinema: the separation of the family on Lake Biwa and a terrifying rendering of the cruelly indifferent violence of war.

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