Masters Of Cinema - Late Mizoguchi, Eight Films, 1951-1956 - Oyu-sama and Ugetsu Monogatari review

Proceeding through Masters Of Cinema's new Mizoguchi box set chronologically, the first two films you arrive at provide quite a contrast. Oyû-sama, or Miss Oyu, whilst pleasant and well made has all of the plot hallmarks of a TV costume drama, with two sisters falling for the same man in amongst an amazing level of social etiquette, which must either be complied with or avoided, hinting at tragedy. Ugetsu Monogatari, on the other hand, is an eerie and rhythmic myth, as two husbands desert their wives in various ways, along a road which leads both to some very odd places indeed.

Clearly it is the latter, one of Roger Ebert's Great Movies, amongst other accolades, that holds the higher level of interest, though Mizoguchi is reported still to have been unsatisfied at the conclusion, which does give positive resolution to one of the deserters. Ugetsu Monogatari is though, at times, a beautiful piece, mixing sound and visuals to occasionally hypnotic effects. Early scenes around the pottery of Genjûrô (Masayuki Mori) and aboard a small boat, floating in and out of a foggy lagoon, are particular highlights.

Oyû-sama, in the meantime, has a difficult job holding our interest and shows that at least some of Mizoguchi's self-deprecating criticism was valid. As Tony Rayns tells us in his video discussion of the film (there is one Rayns discussion per film in the box set, a highlight of the extras provided) the director felt that 'actually nothing at this time worked out well'. Whilst that may not be entirely true, there are certainly elements of Oyû-sama that don't come together, such as the exposition-heavy scene in which Shinnosuke (Yûji Hori) and Shizu (Nobuko Otowa) explain everything that has been going on and all of the character's constant need to turn away from the camera, a tick possibly meant to embody their awkwardness at the situation, but actually something which gets very annoying after a very short period.

Rayns tells hows the source novel by Jun'ichirô Tanizaki called for a much more prim and reserved Oyû and that that is one of the areas where this film falls down, benefiting as it does from the strong wills of lead Kinuyo Tanaka, who also appears in Ugetsu. Actually though, for those of use unfamiliar with Tanizaki, there is plenty to admire in Tanaka's performance, and she does give an, at times, uninteresting film a bit of much-needed life. That said, rarely do you feel that there is a great deal chemistry between Tanaka and Hori, a key element of the film's narrative, though there is some interest in seeing an early surface-level consideration of Oedipal-leanings, Shinnosuke directly comparing Oyû to his absent mother and, in several scenes, clearly being staged as the less senior partner in the relationship.

If there's a problem with Ugetsu Monogatari it's that the film never feels as though it has any of this sort of high-level thematic concern. The ghost story it eventually tells is interesting enough, making a lovely companion to Kuroneko, also available on Masters Of Cinema, but at this point Mizoguchi feels as though his story had run out of much of its emotional and atmospheric steam, leaving behind a first third full of intrigue and occasional parts of wonder, notable for its use of silhouette and lighting.


Ugetsu Monogatari

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

The Late Mizoguchi, Eight Films, 1951-1961 box set is released in the UK on Monday 21st October 2013

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw Ugetsu last month along with Osaka Elegy as I've been discovering Mizoguchi this year as my favorite so far is Sansho the Bailiff w/ The Life of Oharu as my 2nd favorite so far.