I, Qassandra

Ugetsu (1953) by Kenji Mizoguchi (image: https://www.criterion.com/films/369-ugetsu)

Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語) (1953) – Kenji Mizoguchi

Japan, 1953, 97 minutes, Black & White, 1.37:1, Japanese

Another one from the Sight and Sound’s Best 10 Movies Ever list. The start wasn’t promising at all and felt quite anachronistic, the kind of anachronism one may link, as a person of reason in the 21st century, to fairy tales… that try to teach you that a family, your happy simple and underachieving life, being true to yourself and maintaining your self-dignity are more important than money, are better than perusing wealth, social status and beautiful unattainable women. It seems almost cynical today. They actually say here that money earned while exploiting desperate times of war brings bad luck. And how out of place and self-indulge it looks, when our protagonist, in the midst of a raid of enemy soldiers, return to his village from the villagers’ hiding place at the mountains, only to make sure that his furnace fire hadn’t died out, that his precious pottery items are safe and can be sold at the nearest city to the victorious army. This worth risking your life for. As one does in order to get the best selfie… 

What is between your art or your craft and making money out of it? What is between the artisan crafty production process, which here is not yet deteriorated into mass production and its coarse and poorly-made crop, and profit? The camera wandered at the market place and before reaching our protagonist and his partner’s stand, lingered on the juggler who balances a turning clay plate on a wooden stick. A piece of pottery who would eventually break for the sake of entertainment, amusement and the artist’s glory. The counterpart of money is fame. We know that all too well today. Instead of making a direct link, the story here examines wealth and fame separately, as fame is here pursued by the protagonist brother in-law and counterpart who wishes to become a samurai, an unattainable and inappropriate desire for a simple quite useless peasant of no means who can’t afford purchasing an armour. How far is it from the cannon fodder of our days. When they recruit anyone whether he like it or not, where anyone get an equal and fair chance to make something out of their lives.

The turning point is the sailing on the foggy river scene, one of the best ever cinematographic work (quoted numerous times), that brings us to the realm of poetic realism not only regarding the plot but also and more importantly when it comes to the way of expression. From now and up to the bitter end of disillusion, we can’t really tell the ghosts from the livings. Our heroes gain for a little while all that they have aspired to. The price nevertheless is being paid by their wives, as if they are mere extensions of their spouses and not an entity of their own. Against the dubious fame of the second protagonist who has made enough money to buy an armour but gained his high rank after stealing the decapitated head of an important general of the defeated party, beheaded by somebody else, probably one of his loyal soldiers, his wife is being raped and ends up as a quite in-famous prostitute on a brothel he is being brought into as a reward, and against the glorious voyage to the world of the dead suggested to our leading man by the strange princess who had forced him to marry her, his wife is being stabbed to death by starving soldiers who are after the rice cookies hidden in her clothes. At the end all return to practice agriculture in their little plain home-village. Otherwise how can one keep the people sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree without getting all those strange order-disrupting ideas…? Luckily today, money blinds people even more than simple and ambitionless lives. And while they are chasing the spirits of fame and fortune, somebody steals their homes, whatever that means.


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