film 5 of 8

Ugetsu Monogatari

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

This director’s mis-en-scene is, as usual, mind melting. Note for instance the parallel peasant groups in the background of that last shot. Not only do they enhance the image, they also add to its thematic, historical and moral resonance. Mizoguchi is a formalist, but never at the expense of plot, or world.

And that’s just the ending. It actually wouldn’t be a bad idea to turn down the sound, start using that pause button, and really look closely at each one of this film’s compounded compositions. They’re amazing, which is a word we often carelessly use for things that are kind-of-cool. Here, though, amazing is made up of devoted, wise, humbling. We like movies all the time. Not so many of them, perhaps, make you feel grateful.

Of course there’s much more to that than mere camera work. I’m remembering the first title card in Frank Borzage’s similarly staggering Street AngelĀ (1928). “Everywhere … in every town … in every street … we pass, unknowing, souls made great through love and adversity.” Isn’t that beautiful? There’s plenty of that here, in Mizoguchi’s celebrated milestone. Apropos, and most concentratedly/transcendently, may I especially call your attention to the character of Miyagi? She features prominently in a very famous sequence at the very end of the film. It’s a homecoming, placed at the very end of one of the main male character’s awful and extended extremity. Miyagi is his wife, waiting. She, off-screen or elliptically, has been through more, and worse. She doesn’t draw attention to it, nor does the film itself. Unless you listen, and lie still.

We’ll leave aside all of the technical components of what might be the supreme sequence shot by a director who excelled most everyone, maybe even Ophuls and Welles, at making them. (But how on earth did they all manage it?!) As mentioned, this sequence concentrates all of Mizoguchi’s career-long camera virtuosity, his fierce intensity, his tender, angry agony at the folly of men and the consequent sufferings of women. Who, nevertheless, abide and prevail. Salvation!

My tone might be bothering you, and the concern that you have, your question, is fair. Is the foregoing just so much condescending idealization? Could be, and has been. But as a beneficiary of just this kind of salvific domestical generosity, I can actually address this one. Actually, it’s not that at all. It’s simply true.

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