Ugetsu (1953): Japanese Director Mizoguchi Great Film (Oscar Nominated)

One of the greatest, most lyrical films ever made, Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu” (aka “Ugetsu Monogatori”) is set in the sixteenth century, when a civil warfare is ravaging the land.

Based on two short stories from “Ugetsu Monogatori,” by Akinari Ueda, the tale centers on two peasant potters, who try to make a living while dreaming of a better future.

(Masayuki) travels from his village to Kyoto, where he is seduced by a ghostly noble woman (Machiko Kyo) into a decadent life of wealth.  When he returns to his village, he finds out that his wife had died and is now a ghost, too.  Meanwhile, Tobei pursues his dream of becoming a samurai

The stylized, black-and-white cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, reflects Misoguchi’s background in painting.

End Note

I am grateful to the great film critic Andrew Sarris, who introduced me to this film and to the work of Mizoguchi.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Costume design: Tadaoto Kainoscho

Oscar Award: None

Oscar Context

The B/W Costume Oscar went to Helen Rose for the Susan Hayward’s melodramatic biopic, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” in a race that included Beatrice Dawson in “The Pickwick Papers,” Edith Head in “The Rose Tattoo,” and Jean Louis in “Queen Bee.”

Ironically, this was the only nomination, perhaps because there was not yet an annual category for Best Foreign Language Oscar, which began a year later, in 1956.

Running time: 96 Minutes

Cast

Lady Wukasa (Machiko Kyo)

Genjuro (Masayuki Mori)

Miyagi (Kinuuyo Tanaka)

Tobei (Sakae Ozawa)

Ohama (Mitsuko Mito)

Old Priest (Sugisaku Aoyama)

Village Chief (Ryosuke Kagawa)

Silk Merchant (Kichijiro Tsuchida)

Captain of Tamba Soldiers (Mitsusaburo Ramon)

Genichi (Ichisaburo Sawamura)