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Ugetsu Monogatari [Masters of Cinema] (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray] 
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(Apr 23, 2012)
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SYNOPSIS: Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari [Tales of the Rain and Moon, aka Ugetsu] is a highly acclaimed masterwork of Japanese cinema. Based on a pair of 18th century ghost stories by Ueda Akinari, the film's release continued Mizoguchi's introduction to the West, where it was nominated for an Oscar and won the the Venice Film Festival's Silver Lion award (for Best Direction).
In 16th century Japan, amidst the pandemonium of civil war, potter Genj r (Mori Masayuki) and samurai-aspirant Tobei (Ozawa Sakae) set out with their wives in search of wealth and military glory respectively. Two parallel tales ensue when the men are lured from their wives: Genj r by the ghostly charm of Lady Wakasa (Kyo Machiko); Tobei by the dream of military glory.
Famed for its meticulously orchestrated long takes and its subtle blending of realistic period reconstruction and lyrical supernaturalism, Ugetsu Monogatari is an intensely poetic tragedy that consistently features on polls of the best films ever made.
SPECIAL DUAL FORMAT EDITION FEATURES:
- Newly restored high-definition transfer of Ugetsu Monogatari
- Mizoguchi's Oy -sama (also in 1080p on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles on both features
- Tony Rayns video discussions of Ugetsu Monogatari [9:00] and Oy -sama [13:00]
- Original Japanese and Spanish theatrical trailers for Ugetsu Monogatari
- llustrated booklet featuring rare archival imagery and award-winning translations of the 18th century Ueda Akinari stories adapted in Ugetsu Monogatari
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(1953, Japan, 97 min, b/w, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 4:3, Audio: Mono)
Ugetsu Monogatari is Mizoguchi Kenji’s most famous film and the first fruit of a unique carte blanche contract awarded to him by Daiei studio on the back of the international success of The Life of Oharu in 1952 which set him free to make anything he wanted. The genesis of the film dates back to 1941 and the time when he ran across information about a famous potter while making the now lost The Life of an Actor. A pet project, it consumed his energies much as The Life of Oharu had done the previous year, but this time he had a major studio behind him. Together with the following year’s Sanshō Dayū, the three jidaigeki (historical period dramas) earned prizes in 3 consecutive years at the Venice Film Festival. Taken together with prizes also won at Venice and Cannes by Kurosawa Akira for Rashōmon (1951), Ikiru (1952) and Seven Samurai (1954 – tied with Sanshō Dayū for the Silver Lion), this constitutes the golden age of Japanese cinema, a time when Japan really was the best in the world at making films. The world’s later discovery of directors such as Ozu Yasujirō (Tokyo Story ), Naruse Mikio (Late Chrysanthemums ) and (a little later) Kobayashi Masaki (The Human Condition [1959-61]) would emphatically confirm this.
Many people claim Ugetsu Monogatari is a masterpiece and regard it as Mizoguchi’s best film. It undoubtedly contains much of the director’s greatest work and I love it deeply, but for a reason I will come to later, it is structurally flawed and falls slightly short of the crystalline perfection of films such as The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), The Life of Oharu, Sanshō Dayū, and even perhaps Gion Bayashi made the same year. Furthermore, the film has never been popular with Japanese critics or audiences. It was voted third best film in 1953 by Kinema Junpo (Japan’s premium film magazine), but many objected to Mizoguchi’s lack of fidelity to source (a film set in the 16th century very loosely based on two 18th century Ueda Akinari tales and one 19th century Guy de Maupassant short story) and to the making of the same kind of dull traditional jidaigeki which had flooded cinemas from 1937 through to 1945. By the early 50s people were more interested in the shifting sands of contemporary life and wanted to see films that reflected their concerns. In 1953 even the conservative reactionary Ozu made a film (Tokyo Story) centered firmly on social change in postwar Japan. From the Japanese perspective what Mizoguchi had to offer was old hat, but from the European perspective (especially for those scions of André Bazin at Cahiers du Cinéma) it was a revelation.
Somewhat unusually for Mizoguchi, Ugetsu Monogatari is a complex film with multiple layers of meaning which make repeated viewing unusually productive. This is a film I never tire of watching, rich and allusive as the text is. On its deepest level the film is a Buddhist meditation on the transitory nature of human existence, on mujō which translates as the evanescence of all earthly things, the mutability of all earthly phenomena. Life is suffering and one cannot avoid one’s fate, the wheel of existence turning inexorably in an acceptance of both life and after-life as a single complete entity forever rejuvenating itself. This Buddhist philosophical base underpins all the other layers of the narrative. Most obviously the film is a simple morality play about how man reacts to war in which militarism, greed, pride and artistic ambition are punished and charity, forgiveness, tolerance, family love and forbearance are celebrated with worldly gain/spiritual loss juxtaposed with worldly loss/spiritual gain equally across the four characters of the narrative. Mujō is omnipresent, but war writes it large with transience heightened for everyone over the swift course of events. The film is also a deeply pacifist text in which perhaps Mizoguchi makes amends for the earlier pro-war propaganda films he had to make. He told his screenwriter Yoda Yoshikata, “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 emphasize this as the main theme of the film.” A further narrative layer is a very Mizoguchian depiction of the human condition, how women sacrifice themselves for their men, how they are tossed into a patriarchal, male-dominated world where money and social success is everything and they are used and abused so that society may rejuvenate itself. The character of Miyagi looms large here as the pacifist figure of motherly compassion who sacrifices the most for the survival of her family, embodying most completely the pacifist compassionate teachings of Buddha. Most revealing of all perhaps is the layer of rich autobiography with the main character Genjūrō being an artist surrogate for Mizoguchi himself, the film continuing the fascinating meditation on the artistic process first laid down in Utamaro and his Five Women (1946) which embodies the Zen idea that perfection can only be approached through repetition and discipline, that ‘process’ is more important than ‘end result.’
Complex the film may be, but the surface couldn’t be simpler and a synopsis of the story is perhaps most easily rendered by taking the second of these narrative layers first. The setting is 16th century Azuchi-Momoyama period Japan and the location is a village named Nakanogō which lies north of Lake Biwa in Ōmi province, not far from present day Ōsaka. It is a time of civil war and the film centrally depicts in moral terms how four characters react to chaos. Genjūrō (Mori Masayuki) is a peasant farmer who sidelines as a potter. He sees war as a time for both commercial and artistic opportunity and puts all his efforts into making pottery so he can make a killing at the local market. Miyagi (Tanaka Kuniyo) is his wife content with her lot as a mother to their child Genichi. For her, domestic warmth and human love are all that is important and she sees war as a threat, not as an opportunity. To have money is nice, but having too much is a luxury she can do without especially as making it means her husband risking his life and their home security. Their neighbors are the married couple Tōbei (Ozawa Sakae) and Ohama (Mito Mitsuko). They are also peasants and like Genjūrō, Tōbei sees war as an opportunity for material gain. In his case he wants to become a samurai warrior and climb the social scale. Ohama (Genjūrō’s sister) like Miyagi sees war as a threat, but she has no child and sees no harm in letting her man take the opportunity to make money if it is there, so long as he doesn’t leave her to become a samurai. She is a survivor prepared to do what it takes in time of war. The film’s moral is announced baldly in the third scene of the film just before Genjūrō arrives back with the money he has made in the market. The village chief advises Miyagi, “Your husband and [Tōbei] are greedy. Money made in chaotic times is easily lost. They should prepare for the coming war.” Of course the film goes on to depict the men insisting their selfish ways. They become rich and famous, but are punished for pursuing their false idols by losing their wives. Mizoguchi orders his scenes in a very moral way to stress how men’s dreams are realized at the expense of their women. Inspired by his new wealth Tōbei runs away from Ohama to buy his armour and spear to become a samurai. In the very next scene Ohama, abandoned and dejected, is raped by a gang of soldiers – “See what you’ve done to me with your dreams, Tōbei?” she wails. Genjūrō meanwhile allows himself to be seduced by the mysterious Lady Wakasa (Kyō Machiko) who buys his goods and makes him promise to be her husband. At the end of two scenes ripe with erotic abandon (an outdoor hot spring bath followed by a midday picnic beside the lake) Genjūrō exclaims, “I’ve never felt so good in my life… I never knew such things were possible,” and in the very next scene as if to punish him Mizoguchi shows Miyagi struggling to escape the reigning chaos and then needlessly speared to death by hungry soldiers.
The tone of the film’s twin stories is thoroughly moral. As Robin Wood says very perceptively (in his essay ‘Mizoguchi: The Ghost Princess and the Seaweed Gatherer’ reprinted in the booklet for MoC’s Sanshō Dayū/Gion Bayashi set), worldly gain/spiritual loss (Tōbei/Ohama) is counterbalanced with worldly loss/spiritual gain (Genjūrō/Miyagi). Tōbei has the dubious good fortune to find the head of a famous enemy general and is rewarded with a title, a horse and with followers on the road to ever greater worldly gain. Ohama on the other hand is condemned to life as a prostitute, but being a survivor she makes the most of it and becomes a famous courtesan. Still, her fate represents spiritual loss on what she had before Tōbei left her. In the other story Genjūrō loses everything in his pursuit of material and artistic wealth. Soldiers steal his money and kill his wife. This worldly loss is balanced by Miyagi’s spiritual gain, but of course ‘from the other side’. She is the only one of the four to have remained pure and her ‘spirit’ welcomes and forgives Genjūrō on his return. Alas, the film doesn’t work out as brilliantly as I have described. Much to Mizoguchi’s annoyance Daiei stepped in and ordered a happy ending be inserted to the Tōbei/Ohama story. In the film Tōbei as a samurai discovers Ohama working as a courtesan, they tearfully reunite and return to the village, he throwing his armor and spear into a river and she making him promise never to err again. The film finishes with the three characters living their peasant lives having learned their moral lesson. It says a lot for Mizoguchi’s creative resources that this final scene is still exquisite, in fact one of the very greatest closing scenes of any film I know, but taken with the rest of the narrative structure the balance is just wrong. The sting is taken out of the Tōbei/Ohama story and Genjūrō consequently dominates the film too much with the former relegated to a mere subplot which feels like it’s been tacked on in the film’s final third. This must qualify any suggestion that the film is a masterpiece and Mizoguchi was understandably livid at the way the studio meddled with his beloved creation.
Staying with the film’s morality play just for a moment, it’s important to appreciate that parallel with the pursuit of false idols lies another much more pessimistic moral closely related to Buddhism, that in times of war it doesn’t matter what choice of action is taken, ultimately survival comes down to pure chance, to fate. Life is suffering and fate is unavoidable. Genjūrō, Tōbei and Ohama all survive, but it is Miyagi who “becomes the sublime type of woman, the one who can forgive” (McDonald), and she becomes that by having led the purest life. The final scene where she redeems Genjūrō is unbearably moving and it would be even more so if Tōbei and Ohama receive their fate as Mizoguchi and Yoda wanted them to do. Studio-imposed facile humanism here mars what could have been perfection.
The film’s morality play obviously deals with various elements of the human condition, but on another level that condition is accessed through a meditation on the central roles men and women play. This is an area central to the Mizoguchi worldview. Again and again throughout his œuvre the director addresses the central dichotomy between men as selfish achievers who pursue their various ambitions (to be wealthy, to be successful, to achieve greatness) ignorant of the effects this pursuit has on others, and women who are expected to sacrifice everything for these men and then forgive them for the trouble they cause. Dudley Andrew (in his book Kenji Mizoguchi, a guide to references and resources) comments acutely, “Social problems [in Mizoguchi] present themselves as emanations of a cosmic friction about which we can do little more than become aware.” The way women suffer at the hands of men throughout Mizoguchi’s films isn’t a problem that can be solved, rather it is an element of this “cosmic friction” which just is, and the best an artist can do is to make his audience aware of it. Andrew goes on to argue (for me very persuasively) that there are two sides to Mizoguchi, one that rebels against the social inequality (stemming from his own personal background wherein his beloved sister Suzu was sold off to virtual geishadom by his detested father) and one that accepts the inequality as a metaphysical given. This is reflected in the way women are treated in the two types of film he made. In the gendaigeki (modern dramas) “his heroines are in revolt against a system in which they are exploited, frequently without the aid of even the most fragile family support, whereas the jidaigeki become legends of women who suffer for an idea of culture that the film clearly valorizes in the end.” In other words, the gendaigeki (such as Osaka Elegy, Gion no Shimai, Gion Bayashi, Uwasa no Onna, Akasen Chitai) show history in the making through women in revolt, while the jidaigeki (The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu Monogatari, Sanshō Dayū) show history having been made with women’s struggle put into context. Their struggle is “a necessary feature of social existence,” and one which shapes civilization as it has come down to us. Ugetsu Monogatari illustrates this as clearly as any Mizoguchi film. Genjūrō and Tōbei both suffer from congenital blindness in their drive towards fame and fortune while Ohama and Miyagi are abandoned and lost. Crucially for their redemption they both want riches simply to display to their wives. Tōbei in all his pomp wants to ride back to Nakanogō and show off what he has won to Ohama while Genjūrō still only wants to buy a kimono for Miyagi, until that is he is sidetracked by Wakasa, but even then, aided by a priest he comes to his senses and realizes where his priorities are. Both Ohama and Miyagi suffer intolerably throughout the film, but they forgive their men who are shown as having become better people by the end. Tōbei picks up a hoe and works diligently at his field while Genjūrō works at his pottery wheel in apparent artistic bliss with Miyagi beside him ‘in spirit’. The film demonstrates Mizoguchi’s feeling that man improves precisely because of the self-sacrifice and warm acceptance of women. There is always the feeling in Mizoguchi’s films of women being held aloft as the finest exemplars of humanity as they harbor “a serene acceptance of a cosmos that grinds them under. There is almost envy in Mizoguchi’s delicious handling of this pathos, as his camera struggles to become adequate to the sensibility of his heroines” (Andrew). There is no finer example of this struggle than the scene of Genjūrō’s return. The compassionate, ever-sacrificing, ever-forgiving Miyagi refuses to let him explain his mistake, forgiveness given even before it is asked for. He goes to sleep with his son, Miyagi throwing a blanket over him, patiently adjusting his slippers and lovingly mending his torn clothes. Her body bends over in the darkness as she sews away, the sun just beginning to poke through the cracks in the door. After so much male-fuelled, testosterone-inflected action this is a quiet, still and serene picture of the enduring strengths of womanhood that sweeps all before it. This film is crammed full of visual riches which I haven’t really begun to describe, but there’s no doubt that the film’s beating, aching heart lies right here in this deeply poignant scene.
Morality and the suffering of women are also pervasive in the film’s meditation on the artistic process with Genjūrō serving as surrogate artist for Mizoguchi himself. Andrew sees Ugetsu Monogatari as “his most autobiographical [film], chronicling the escape of an artist into an ethereal world of beauty and pleasure, while he remains oblivious to a war that has ravaged those closest to him”. Mizoguchi was famously a workaholic who put his art before everything (and everyone) else and expected his collaborators (from the most famous actor to the most humble studio technician) to do likewise. Nobody ‘enjoyed’ working on a Mizoguchi film with Yoda suffering perhaps most of all, especially on this film for which he had to execute countless rewrites for his demanding task master. The problem was Mizoguchi never told his staff what to do exactly – they were expected to work that out for themselves through a process of dedication and intuition. Everything was put into the preparation of each shot until the moment of the shot itself when Mizoguchi insisted on a moment of spontaneity. Nobody knew where this was going to come from and consequently everyone was always on edge. Mizoguchi was equally unsparing on those closest to him in his private life. He was slashed in a public bath by a prostitute allegedly for not paying her enough attention and reportedly drove his wife Chieko insane by his lack of attention. Genjūrō is no different from Mizoguchi in this film. He forces Miyagi to turn the wheel faster and faster for his pottery, scolding his baby son for getting in the way, building up irritation through tiredness. When forced to leave his burning kiln by invading soldiers, Miyagi can’t stop him going back to rescue his pots even though he is risking their lives. When he learns about pirates on the lake he insists against Miyagi’s wishes on leaving her ashore to mind Genichi. This is actually the last time he sees her ‘alive’ and he barely notices as she tearfully waves him ‘goodbye,’ his mind on future profits much more than the safety of a wife he will never see again.
Genjūrō’s artistic ambitions exceed even his material ambitions when he visits Wakasa’s mansion and sees his own pottery transformed into an aesthetic feast thanks to the gorgeous food prepared on them. “The value of people and things truly depends on their setting,” he says wistfully – words which could have come straight out of Mizoguchi’s mouth arch-aesthete as he was. Robin Wood points to three types of pottery that we see in the film – rough earthenware extracted from the kiln at the beginning, refined aesthetic marvels which he couldn’t possibly have made except in his imagination in Wakasa’s mansion, and then the mature pieces he works on at the end. “The artisan has become an artist” (Wood), a process which we know Mizoguchi likened to his own artistic maturation. He dismissed his first 50 films as mere apprentice-work, seeing his first ‘real’ films as being Ōsaka Elegy and Gion no Shimai (both 1936). At the end of his life he was still saying that he had yet to do his best work, but I think it’s fair to say he really reached his maturity with The Life of Oharu and the films that followed it, such as this one. Key to the link between Mizoguchi and both Genjūrō and Utamaro (from the film Utamaro and His Five Women) is the fact that all three made mass-produced art which could be shown anywhere and in any context and the artistic inspiration lies not in the end product, but in the very act of creation itself. “Both Genjūrō and Mizoguchi return home from the clouds of illusion that seduced them in order to take pleasure in the sheer process of their trade. The serenity Genjūrō at last achieves in his labor is not strictly related to the delicate beauty of the wares the labor produces. Pottery in this way becomes an emblem for a type of art-work that is useful, fragile, disposable and valuable primarily for the work that went into its shaping … it is the activity of self expression, more than the eternity of any given form that is the final goal of an artist” (Andrew). The way Utamaro and His Five Women ends with the handcuffed artist repeating “I want to paint, I want to paint so much” is echoed here by Genjūrō and surely behind the camera by Mizoguchi as well as the demonic artistic impulse continues to imperiously brush everything else out of its way in the Zen-like desire to express oneself through repetition and discipline. At one point Wakasa asks Genjūrō how he came to master his craft and he replies, “It is simple, but it takes many years to learn how to mold the clay and glaze.” Final mastery for Genjuro, Utamaro and Mizoguchi always lies tantalizingly out of reach, the art lying in the journey towards achievement rather than in the achievement itself.
It is well known that at the time of Ugetsu Monogatari Mizoguchi converted to Nichiren Buddhism and it is remarkable to me how strongly both this film and Sanshō Dayū are indebted to it. Mujō (the transitory nature of human existence in the wheel of life turning inexorably) is omnipresent, two examples screaming out for attention. Firstly, the film begins and ends with crane shots, the first has the camera panning left across rice fields, and the last has the camera panning straight upwards from Miyagi’s grave to the very same scene of the fields. The frame emphasizes the film’s narrative as one huge turn of the wheel of life, events returning full cycle and set to begin again. Second, Genjūrō’s potter’s wheel is a very potent symbol of the same. At first we see him working furiously at it driving Miyagi to spin it faster, the ambitions of all the characters except Miyagi fueled to ever greater heights. We next see the wheel at the film’s end when Genjūrō spins it alone, Miyagi’s spirit helping him from beyond the grave. This is the period of the greatest maturation in his art and he works with contentment though he has had to lose Miyagi to reach it. Then there is an important momentary shot of the wheel static, not being turned at all, but just sitting there, the point being life goes on regardless, the wheel of life never actually stops even if human endeavor seems to do so.
Beyond these two obvious visual representations, mujō is expressed most famously of all in the phenomenally successful merging of reality with the supernatural. Here we come to the chief reason why this film is so deeply revered for in no other work is this dichotomy presented so skillfully, so subtly, so convincingly and with so much intellectual conviction. Most people see the supernatural announced first when Wakasa approaches Genjūrō at the market replete with female Noh mask, gliding flat-footedly down the street in the manner of a ghost from a Noh drama. Others see the supernatural atmosphere first announced in the earlier lake scene in which the boat propelling our four characters to their different fates looms out of the mist like a phantom vessel to meet a second boat bearing a figure. “It’s a ghost,” says one of them to which the figure replies, “I am no ghost,” before begging for water, warning of them of pirates and then dying. The boats go their separate ways and our phantom vessel disappears on into the mist. The evocation here is marvelous, Miyagawa Kazuo’s crane work in the studio completely convincing us that we have somehow stepped across the rubicon with our transient characters’ lives here in the process of being tipped upside down. Who is real and who is unreal?
I would suggest however that the film’s natural/supernatural dichotomy is announced right at the film’s beginning with the Noh music behind the credits and the writing we read before the film’s first shot. As Keiko I. McDonald tells us “mujō is…the staple Buddhist idea expressed in Noh drama” and we hear Noh chant (which we later learn to be Wakasa’s dead father) together with high pitched metallic music which anyone who has ever experienced a Japanese funeral will connect with bardo, the transitional state of non-being between two beings, after death and before reincarnation. The film starts and finishes with the same music and the idea is that ALL the characters we see are in a state of bardo with the difference between reality and the supernatural becoming hopelessly (and deliberately) blurred – life and after-life are treated as a single complete entity. The words after the opening credits tell us we are about to see ghost stories and we are led immediately to distrust what we are about to watch. Furthermore, I would suggest that Lake Biwa is suggestive of the supernatural perhaps more than anything else throughout. Note the very first crane shot panning left across peasants working their fields which is interrupted briefly by an odd otherwise inexplicable shot of the lake, the shot dissolving into the same pan left which finally rests on Genjūrō preparing to go to market. The camera remains airborne, pointing down at the characters in the foreground as we see Tōbei and Ohama coming out of their house in the background (one of several stunning deep focus shots which trumps Gregg Toland’s famous work for Citizen Kane). Miyagawa later said that at least 70% of the film was shot from a crane and Mizoguchi insisted on long shots (in both senses of the word) and a subtle creeping technique which has the narrative “unroll seamlessly like a scroll painting” (according to Yoda) with an emphasis on misty, gauzy, slightly undefined visual textures somewhat influenced by the Southern School of Chinese painting. The total effect it seems to me is one of ghostly impermanence, of transience, of mujō. At first we think our four characters are real, but the mists of Lake Biwa muddy this and encourages us to doubt them. The only one who remains beyond doubt is Miyagi, who significantly is the only one to leave the boat. The other three reach their destination and approach their fates, Tōbei reborn as a samurai, Ohama reborn as a courtesan and Genjūrō reborn at first as a man of wealth with still good intentions towards Miyagi (a peach of an apparition in a shop as he buys a kimono and imagines her wearing it), but after he is seduced by Wakasa he is reborn as a hedonistic aesthete.
The scenes in Wakasa’s mansion are legendary in the filmmaking business, the evocation of Genjūrō’s gradual fall into ruin marked by the use of bells, high camera angles forcing him into corners, the ghost princess Wakasa working her eerie charms over him, finally overwhelming him. High points include Wakasa performing a Noh dance, singing and raising her dead father from the dead. The words from her wedding song directly connote mujō: “The finest silk of rarest hue / May fade away, and quickly, too / So may the love I offer you, / If your heart proves false to me.” Then there is a stunningly evoked night scene in a hot spring with the camera bashfully panning away as Wakasa climbs in to join an enraptured Genjūrō. The camera pans across rock, then grass and then raked sand of the kind we see in a Zen rock garden like Ryōanji (in Kyoto), before panning sharply upwards to bring us from the enchanted intoxication of night to the bright light of day, significantly beside Lake Biwa again as the two picnic in the sun. The camerawork throughout all of this is truly jaw-dropping, as is the final exorcism of the evil spirits when Genjūrō finally admits he has a wife and child and frees himself. The most astonishing image for me is the one where Wakasa rises up (to a sweeping harp on the soundtrack) and seems to float towards Genjūrō, an effect achieved by a minute adjustment in the background lighting, a slight zoom, but mostly by the flat-footed Noh-style walk towards the camera which Kyō Machiko perfected. Cinema was created for moments such as this and its all the more impressive for being achieved completely without special effects. Another evocative scene comes after Genjūrō is found by the soldiers, robbed and left alone. As he wanders the ruins of the mansion (a building having been shown in three states – we first see it in disrepair, then fully restored as if Genjūrō’s entrance has revitalized the place, and then finally as a total ruin as it is in reality) by Lake Biwa he hears the same wedding song, emphasizing even more the layers of mujō central to the film.
The film’s most moving blurring of reality and the supernatural comes at the end when Genjūrō returns. By this time all the characters have been changed. We saw Miyagi earlier being speared by soldiers, but we were not sure if she died or not, her body crawling as the camera fades. When Genjūrō enters his house Miyagi is not there. Everything is dark and we think she must have died. The camera pans left following him as he walks through his house until he exits through the backdoor and then walks around the house to the right, the camera still following him until Miyagi is revealed sitting over a fire cooking a home-coming meal. She starts in surprise, drops her chopsticks and rushes to her husband to greet him. She acts completely as if she’s real and even after Genjūrō falls asleep she continues to be the devoted wife. The light of day of course reveals that she is a ghost in this scene, the effect stunningly achieved simply because Mizoguchi doesn’t cut as Genjūrō wanders around his house. What wasn’t there is suddenly there as if by magic.
This film is lauded mainly for Miyagawa’s camerawork which is indeed stunning. No more beautiful compositions exist in cinema than the ones we are given here and in the following Sanshō Dayū. There are so many examples which I haven’t mentioned, but the reason why his work is lauded so highly is because it is perfectly welded to the material at hand. The camerawork takes off from a near-flawless script to make for what is cinema’s greatest statement on the transitory state of life – what really happens when war rages destructively, making visual all those tensions and fractures that flaw the human condition.
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