Movie Information

In Brief: Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu is one of the greatest of all Japanese films. (It may, in fact, be my favorite Japanese film of the 1950s). It was one of the films that first helped Japanese cinema find its footing in America, but don't mistake its art-house cred as a sign that this is in any way a stuffy museum piece. It's a ghost story — and a very creepy one at that — that stops shy of being a horror film, but one that clearly informed Japanese and Asian horror in general as it developed over the years. Rarely, however, has its visual beauty been equaled.
Genre: Fantasy Drama
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Starring: Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyô, Kinuyo Tanaka, Sakae Ozawa, Ichisaburo Sawamura
Rated: NR

The last time Ugetsu screened locally, I wrote: “Kenji Mizoguchi’s art-house staple Ugetsu (1953) is the film after Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) that most introduced Western audiences to Japanese cinema. It’s easy to see why, since this relatively simple film presents a wholly accessible story that is, nonetheless, unlike just about anything coming out of the West at the time. On its most basic level, Ugetsu is a ghost story — actually a two-ghost story — but done in a manner that has little to do with Hollywood chillers. In fact, the only thing remotely like it in Hollywood fare is the Val Lewton-produced Curse of the Cat People (1944), and that comparison is not unreasonable because the Lewton films almost certainly influenced the lake sequence in Ugetsu. The film follows the fortunes of two brothers—the farmer/potter Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) and his somewhat goofy helper Tobei (Sakae Ozawa) —and their much put-upon wives — Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Ohama (Mitsuto Miko). The action takes place at a time of civil war, an event that the brothers seem to virtually ignore in favor of their own self-centered pursuits. Genjuro is obsessed (increasingly so) with making money by selling his pottery in the neighboring larger towns, while Tobei has outsized dreams of becoming a samurai. Their wives are rightly skeptical of both pursuits, which does nothing to prevent either man from doing exactly what he wants — actions that come home to roost on the wives.”

Full review here:

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Ugetsu Friday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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