The final movie in the Asian Horror Movies Week segment of Octoblur barely qualifies as such. Although Kenji Mizoguchi's 1953 Ugetsu does involve ghosts and broaches the realistic horrors of how war and greed prey on the worst instincts of ordinary people, it's a weak spot in this month's lineup as far as creeps and ghouls are concerned.
Like Onibaba earlier this month, Ugetsu depicts how the lives of those not directly engaged in fighting are upended as Japan's 16th century civil war rages throughout the land. In Ugetsu, the story focuses on two discontented farmers from a modest village. Genjurō (Masayuki Mori) discovers that the strife of war has created a great demand for the pottery he makes as a hobby, while his brother-in-law Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) desperately desires the glamourous status of a samurai. Their wives (Mitsuko Mito and Kinuyo Tanaka) implore them to be satisfied with their meager but happy lives, however both men are coaxed away from home by their blind ambitions, leading to heartbreaking consequences for their families.
Considered one of Japanese cinema's breakthroughs into western markets, along with Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, Ugetsu is serious, delicate and lyrical, with Mizoguchi's deliberate pacing resulting in a steady creep of dread as both natural and supernatural forces tear at these families' values. Few directors use slowness of movement as effectively as Mizoguchi does here, and it creates a subtly affecting gap between the physical world and what lies beyond.
Ugetsu features many beautiful, tense and eerie scenes, but, unlike some of the other classic Japanese movies I've watched this year, it's themes are a little too simplistic to resonate as deeply as perhaps it once did. Ugetsu is also far more of a stretch as a horror movie than the darker Onibaba, as well as less impactful on the nerves, but it's a worthy drama with a ghostly-touch that might satisfy film lovers with a casual appreciation for the supernatural during this time of year.