In the provincial village of Ohmi, in the era of the Countries in War feudal war, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) leaves his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and son in order to undertake a dangerous trip to the city where he can profit from the widespread shortage by selling his pottery. He is accompanied by his well intentioned brother, Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa), a peasant farmer who dreams of providing a better life for his wife Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) by becoming a samurai. Encouraged by their successful venture, the brothers return with loftier ambitions that quickly turn to greed. During the evening of the kiln firing, the village is attacked, and the two families are forced to abandon their homes, traveling by boat to the city of Omizo, where they can sell the undamaged pottery. Along the way, they encounter a lone, wounded boatman, who warns them of pirate ships in the vicinity, and Genjuro decides to leave Miyagi and their son behind for their safety. While selling pottery at the open market square, an enigmatic young woman named Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) approaches Genjuro and orders several articles for delivery to the Kutsuki mansion, and immediately captivates him. Tobei seizes the momentary distraction to run away with their profits and purchase a samurai outfit, attempting to join the army of a local feudal lord. The abandoned Ohama, in a vain attempt to find her husband, encounters a band of pillaging mercenaries, and is violated.
Ugetsu is an exquisitely realized, serenely composed allegorical film on love, greed, and betrayal. Kenji Mizoguchi’s seamless fusion of poetic realism and surreal mysticism creates a rarefied atmosphere that is paradoxically beautiful and austere, redemptive and tragic, symbolizing Genjuro’s coexistence between the physical and supernatural realm – a reflection of the duality of the human soul. Chronologically, the protracted feudal war surrounds every villager with the pervasive specter of death. Episodically, Mizoguchi uses an overhead shot of a woman dressed in a soft, fluttering white kimono to introduce us to the transcendental Lady Wakasa. Genjuro passes through a series of open and screened spaces at the Kutsuki mansion, creating a visual dichotomy of physical reality and ethereal shadows, before his formal introduction to Lady Wakasa. Inevitably, the tortured Genjuro is forced to confront his beguiling temptress – a metaphor for the dark passion of the soul – and returns to his fractured, haunted past: a diligent, simple potter, inspired by the love of his devoted wife.
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