XL Popcorn – Ugetsu Monogatari

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 602/1007
Title: Ugetsu Monogatari
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Year: 1953
Country: Japan

After a long time of watching films rather sparingly it feels like I am on a roll. I think that I burned out on films after the splurge I had to keep me sane during my wrist injury. It’s taken nearly a year to get that film watching itch, now (thanks in part to Feud) it is very much back and I am keen to start taking large bites out of this list where possible.

So here I am ending this May bank holiday weekend with another film – one that I have been wanting to see for years. Why did it take me so long? Well, at 98 minutes Ugetsu Monogatari is one of the shorter films on the list and I keep trying to purposely watch longer ones so that I can accelerate my film watching as I cross the finish line.

Then I thought: why wait, let’s just watch the damned thing. So I did and I enjoyed it.

Ugetsu Monogatari is a Japanese film that takes two fables from the collection of the same name. Both fables share the themes of ghosts and being careful what you wish for. You also have some pretty strong anti-violence messages – ergo the setting of this in the 1500s where widespread war and pillaging.

It takes a while before things become fantastical, in fact it feels very much like a simple fable of being thankful for what you have – until a ghost starts singing through a samurai’s helmet. Things get weirder and more fantastical from then on with the film very much grabbing hold of the fable angle with both hands.

Ugestsu Monogatari is one of those films where it helps to know things about either Japanese films or Japanese history. Having watched films like Rashomon  and Onibabaand having a vested interest in Japan in general, it made more sense to me. Still, I had by questions about a bunch of the historical details and names as the film isn’t one for exposition.

Still, exposition be damned as not only is this film beautifully shot (especially the shots with the leading man and the aristocratic woman who insists on being his bride). Honestly there is a lot that can be said about this film on the subjects of patriarchy, dreams and war. This is a film that regularly ranks highly on critics list and whilst it probably wouldn’t end up in my Top 50 – it is a film definitely worthy of notice.

However, it isn’t a good film as a gateway into classic live-action Japanese cinema. I still think Ran, The Burmese Harp or Banshun would work better. I also have a soft spot for Shall We Dansu? but I am not sure if that would be considered a classic…

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