Saturday Movie Review – “Ugetsu”

We missed the Saturday review last week, but we’re getting this week’s column up early. (The DVD picks column will likely be up Sunday.) Our call for feedback told us that the movie reviews you’re most interested in are either the reviews of new movies, or the reviews of little known gems you probably haven’t heard of. This week, we review a little known gem. Next week, we’ll review Spider-Man 3.

Cast and Crew

Masayuki Mori as Genjuro
Machiko Kyo as Lady Wakasa
Kinuyo Tanaka as Miyagi
Eitaro Ozawa as Tobei
Ikio Sawamura as Genichi
Mitsuko Mito as Ohama

Screenplay by Yoshikata Yoda and Matsutaro Kawaguchi, adapted from stories by Akinari Ueda.
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

Complete information is available from this IMDB


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Past movie reviews can be found here.


During the 16th Century, Japan was in a state of turmoil. Two couples deal with a

neighbouring war in an inappropriate manner, and pay a considerable price.
(How is that sci-fi or fantasy, you ask? I can’t reveal the specific fantasy elements without giving away key surprises and plot points, but I assure you, this is a fantasy film.)

High Point

The subtle appearance of Miyagi just in time for reunion.

Low Point

Getting “ahead” in the military. As though that would have been that easy, given the

description of the general’s abilities.

The Review

As usual, it’s hard to obtain a perfect originlity score when your work is an

adaptation. In spite of that, the focus on greed and its effects is just not common on the capitalist side of the

pond, so this Japanese film embarks on moral lessons few Hollywood films get into. I give it 4 out of 6.

Visual effects were not necessary for this film. Fog machines and a subtle fade did the entire job. The fog machines were well used, though, as they never gave the impression of a small space I usually get when I see them in use. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story is where this really shines. Some seemingly harmless opportunism turns quite disastrous quickly and effectively. (The closest North American analog I can think of is the fantastic, and much more recent, Requiem For A Dream.) I give it 6 out of 6.

The acting was solid. At times, it was a bit extreme, as though Japanese actors were still moving out of stage acting styles into the theatrical styles, but most of the work was good. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response is very strong. The story told is effective enough to overcome the rare clunky moments in the acting. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is excellent. The lighting is far more subtle than I’m used to from black and white film of this era (1954) and budget, allowing for some real depth. The editing is extremely effective. The musical score consists mainly of prolonged tones instead of melodies, but that’s just the style of this era in Japanese film, which I suspect means it’s part of long term Japanese tradition. I give the production 6 out of 6.

Overall, the film stock reveals the age of the film, but none of the content, message, or filmmaking would give away the age of the piece. It’s a great fable, and a refreshing change of pace. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Ugetsu receives 34 out of 42.