the value of people and things truly depends on their setting

As I’ve said before The Criterion Collection produces beautiful DVDs of deserving films, both classics and modern masterpieces.

Last night I watched Ugetsu, which is Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1953 ghost story. Criterion has outdone itself with this version: it is loaded with features and a beautiful booklet that contains a critical essay and the three original short stories on which the film is based (two by Akinari Ueda, and one by Guy de Maupassant). The film was adapted to the screen by Yoshikata Yoda and Matsutaro Kawaguchi.

I sought out Ugetsu because of its outstanding critical reputation, and I enjoy watching a wide range of films that tackle supernatural themes. It is a lyrical and beautiful film that examines the effects of war and ambition upon two peasant couples, and gently inserts a ghost story as the film progresses.

Mizoguchi is particularly adept at transitions from reality to unreality in his film. His moving camera is fluid and drifts through the spaces like an observant spirit. He generates an unreal stratosphere through his simple but clever sets, lighting, and the constant underlying rhythmic beat and music. There are no special effects in the movie; just a smart understanding of how to utilise the set and lighting to achieve a spectral feeling.

The intelligent miring of the story in the ordinary lives of farmers means that their interactions with the supernatural are given an extra weight. The ghostly apparitions take on metaphorical meaning as the dreams of people who want to achieve something special in the world. Disaster is provoked when the men forget their real responsibilities in favour of illusion and glamour, and their wives suffer the consequences.

I don’t think that Mizoguchi is suggesting that the pursuit of dreams is innately dangerous, however he does indicate that they can turn even the wisest of men’s heads if not grounded in preparation and understanding.

It’s a delicate and ethereal film, with a simple story, and yet it lingers in the imagination. Those who enjoy well-executed ghost stories should look up this film.

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