Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953, Jp.)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953, Jp.) (aka Tales of Ugetsu)

In Kenji Mizoguchi's beautifully-composed, expressionistic anti-war film and ghostly-supernatural fantasy story - it was a fluid fable and morality tale of greed, the folly of ambition, misdirected love and infidelity; the "refashioning" was based on two stories by the 18th century writer Akirari Ueda (often described as the Japanese Guy de Maupassant); the film cleverly seemed to exist simultaneously in both a ghostly dreamworld and the real-world:

  • the film's story was set in late 16th century feudal Japan during the Age of Civil Wars (the forces of Lord Shibata were fighting against Lord Hashiba in the Omi Province)
  • its main characters were two couples: (1) a restless, vain and ambitious craftsman-potter and peasant farmer named Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), living with his loving, dedicated wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and their young son Gen'ichi in a village hut - the family unit was first viewed in a lengthy right to left panning shot in the film's opening when the camera came to rest on them

Genjuro (Masayuki Mori)

Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), Genjuro's Wife
  • (2) the second couple was Genjuro's peasant neighbor and simple-minded brother-in-law Tobei (Sakae Ozawa) who had fanciful but foolish dreams about becoming a respected and noble samurai warrior; his shrewish wife Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), Genjuro's sister, failed to discourage him from fantasizing about finding glory in the military
  • the entrepreneurial Genjuro (accompanied by Tobei) thought he would be helping his family by earning money through the sale of his pottery wares in the nearby town of Nagahama, although Miyagi had been warned by the village master (Ryôsuke Kagawa) that profits wouldn't last from sales to battling armies: ("Quick profits made in chaotic times never last. A little money inflames men's greed. They'd do better to prepare for the coming war")
  • shortly thereafter, Genjuro proudly returned from Nagahama with three silver coins from the sales of his pottery, but Tobei had left him to follow after a samurai warrior; after being rejected as a beggar by a samurai for not having armor and a spear, Tobei sheepishly returned home as the "village idiot"
  • during the civil war, according to Genjuro's wife, he had become a "different man" - he espoused monetary greed and the acquisition of more food and material gifts: "Money is everything, see? Without it, life is hard, and all hope dies," although Miyagi only wished for harmony in their relationship and happy family life ("Living together as a happy family is enough for me")
  • after Lord Shibata's marauding troops pillaged their village, Genjuro was able to salvage fired pots from his kiln that he could still sell; the two families were able to escape and ventured by boat to the markets at Nagahama to greedily find wealth; they borrowed an abandoned boat that Ohama (a boatman's daughter) rowed across Lake Biwa
  • during the trip, they came upon a phantom ship in the foggy mists of Lake Biwa, where a dying boatman (not a ghost) warned them (particularly the wives: "Take care of your women") to be on the lookout for pirates where they were going
  • fearing the "bad omen," potter Genjuro decided to return his resistant wife (and child) to the shore so they could return home (by avoiding the main road); he promised to return in ten days with lots of silver; Miyagi ran along the shore as he pushed off, worried about his fate
  • Genjuro marketed his ceramic wares in the busy village bazaar in Nagahama, where he experienced his first view of one of his high-spending customers - a bewitching, seductive, glamorous, ghostly, vengeful and threatening noblewoman-princess Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) - "daughter of the late Lord Kutsuki"; Genjuro was invited to deliver the goods that Lady Wakasa had purchased to Kutsuki Manor, where he would be paid
Genjuro's First Look at the Alluring Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo)
  • meanwhile, Tobei greedily took his share of the profits from sales to purchase a spear-sword and a suit of armor from another market vendor for a proper samurai outfit, although his wife Ohama vehemently resisted: "Don't throw away our hard-earned money!"; he ran off and deliberately abandoned her - and she was subsequently assaulted, held down and raped (ironically) by a group of roving samurai soldiers; afterwards, she cursed her husband: "Tobei, you wretched fool!"

Tobei Purchasing a Samurai Outfit From a Market Vendor

Meanwhile, His Wife Ohama Was Assaulted and Raped by Samurai Soldiers
  • while Genjuro had a momentary dream of buying his wife Miyagi beautiful and expensive kimono fabric and presenting it to her, Lady Wakasa (accompanied by her nurse) showed up and lured him to her creepy but elegant castle; candles in various rooms along the way were lit up by female attendants; Lady Wakasa complimented Genjuro on his beautiful ceramic wares and called him a "master craftsman"; her nurse immediately proposed that they become betrothed to each other, and she fell into his arms; an elaborate marital ceremony was conducted
  • at a garden hot springs pool, in a scene of seductive ecstasy in paradise, Genjuro's spirit-lover/enchantress bathed her newlywed husband and told him: "You think I'm some kind of enchantress, don't you? But you're mine, you belong to me now. From now on, you must devote your entire life to me"; he watched as she ran off, disrobed (off-screen), and joined him in the hot water; the camera stayed focused on him (to coyly avoid showing her nakedness)
Lady Wakasa Bathing Genjuro in a Garden Hot Springs Pool
  • the camera then moved along the ground to the left, then rippled and dissolved (a temporal ellipse denoting the passage-of-time) into a Zen rock garden and tilted upward to the open lawn of a lakeside park where the couple was picnicking in the sunshine; on the soundtrack, a female's voice sang: "This love of ours has driven me to madness" - Genjuro chased after Lady Wasaka and grabbed her: "Even if you are a ghost or enchantress, I'll never let you go. I never imagined such pleasures existed. This is exquisite! It's paradise!" - and they collapsed on the ground in each other's arms
  • meanwhile, on her way back to their home village, Miyagi, the potter's wife was attacked and raped by hungry, savage, marauding soldiers, and lethally speared to death
  • in battle, Tobei watched as defeated enemy warrior-general Fuwa suicidally asked his foot soldier to behead him; he stabbed the servant and then stole the severed head in a bag - falsely taking credit for killing the general; Lord Niwa, a top Samurai official, rewarded him with riches ("a horse, armor and vassals") to finally fulfill his fantasy dream of becoming a samurai himself

Tobei Claiming a Defeated, Suicidal General's Severed Head in a Bag

Tobei Praised as a Brave Samurai Warrior

Tobei Discovering His Wife Ohama in Brothel
  • as he celebrated his new status in a town, he discovered his wife Ohama working in a brothel as a geisha; although reunited with her, she was ashamed and humiliated to be found in a shameful, degrading and dishonored occupation as a "defiled woman": ("While you've made your way to the top, I've made quite a name for myself...I bed a different man every night. Some success for a woman, isn't it? Happy now? This is what you wanted. Success always comes at a price, and we pay in suffering. I may be a fallen woman, but your success wipes the slate clean. Be my customer tonight and we'll celebrate. Buy this fallen woman with your money"); he begged for her forgiveness ("I never dreamed you'd be brought to this") and she asked if he could restore her honor or otherwise she would die
  • back in the local market, Genjuro spoke to a Buddhist priest who informed him that his face looked troubled: ("The shadow of death is upon your face"); he urged him to immediately return home or forfeit his life; according to him, princess Wasaka was a long-dead apparition ("a spirit of the dead"); Genjuro had been tempted into a "forbidden" love with her; off-screen, the priest painted Sanskrit script of a curse onto Genjuro’s bare back to protect him from "the jaws of death" and exorcise the dangerous ghosts
  • later, Genjuro returned to Kutsuki Manor to see Lady Wasaka, who pressured him to never leave again, and join her as her husband in her native province: ("I refuse to let you go"); the inscription on his skin protectively repelled Lady Wasaka; he learned that she had died without knowing love, but had returned as a ghost to experience the joys of true love and happiness with him, not knowing that he had a family; Genjuro grabbed a sword, and began to assault the ghost-like personages; after falling to the ground and fainting, he awoke to find that the manor was only ruins - an illusory pile of burnt wood timbers
  • in the film's conclusion, realizing his mistake, Genjuro returned for a homecoming with his wife Miyagi; the sequence was shot with a stunning 360-degree camera movement; he entered his house twice (the first time it was found empty); after circling around a second time, she was cooking and very happy to see him and forgive him for his "terrible mistake" (although earlier it had been assumed that she was dead); she prepared a homecoming meal of stew and a cup of sake for him and mended his garment while he slept

Genjuro's 2nd Entrance into His Home - His Wife Was Cooking

"Home at Last" with Miyagi

Genjuro At His Wife's Gravesite
  • Genjuro awoke the next morning, and was informed by the village chief that his wife had been killed by soldiers of the defeated army, although his young son had survived and had been cared for; Genjuro realized that he had been dreaming - his wife was only a phantom (it was the second time in the film that he had been misled by a female ghost)
  • at his wife's grave, Genjuro asked: "Miyagi, why did you have to die?"; Miyagi's long-suffering, tranquil and patient spirit (in voice-over) assured Genjuro, as the camera slowly pulled back: "I did not die. I am at your side. Your delusion has come to an end. You are again your true self, in the place where you belong. Your work is waiting"
  • Miyagi continued to encourage his pottery work ("Helping you spin the wheel is my greatest pleasure"), and how he had become her ideal man although she was now in a different world: "You've finally become the man I had hoped for. But alas, I am no longer among the living. I suppose such is the way of the world"

Peasant Farmer Genjuro and His Wife Miyagi and Child

(l to r): Ohama and Tobei

The Two Families Rowed Across Lake Biwa Toward Nagahama

Dying Boatman on a Phantom Ship With a "Bad Omen" Warning

Miyagi on the Shore After Being Left Off to Return Home

Genjuro Vigorously Selling His Wares at the Market

Genjuro Lured to Lady Wakasa's Manor
Genjuro Bewitched by Lady Wakasa at Kutsuki Manor

The Newlywed Couple Having a Picnic in a Lakeside Park

Genjuro Chased After Lady Wasaka and Grabbed Her

Collapsing Together Onto the Ground

Miyagi Stabbed to Death

Tobei With His Defiled Wife Ohama in a Brothel

Genjuro Warned by a Buddhist Priest

Lady Wasaka to Genjuro: "I refuse to let you go"

Genjuro's Protective Script on His Skin

Genjuro Slashing at the Ghosts With a Sword

Kutsuki Manor - Only Burnt Wooden Ruins


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