Monday, February 22, 2016

Ugetsu monogatari (Ghost Story) (1953)

Today's film is Ugetsu monogatari, which means "ghost story".  I do love a good ghost story.  Ghosts can be benevolent or have evil intentions, basically no different than living people.

The film takes place in feudal Japan; a time of shogun and samurai, a time of constant wars.  Caught in the middle of this is a family that makes pottery.  The husband's name is Genjuro and he hopes to make a fortune selling in the city.  Meanwhile, their neighbor Tobei wants to be a samurai despite not being born into the class nor having any combat training or armor.  Their wives warn them against their ambitions.

While in the city, Genjuro encounters a beautiful woman with serious eyebrow game and her old nurse.   She loves his beautiful pottery and orders it to be taken to her mansion.  Lots of weird stuff warn us that this is not a good idea.  The woman is Lady Wakasa and she is the last surviving member of her family.

Genjuro falls under Lady Wakasa's spell and stays with her despite being married.  Tobei through sheer luck does become a samurai, but loses his fortune just as quickly.  While Genjuro is busy cheating, his wife and child try to make their way back home.  His wife is robbed and killed by passing soldiers, but her little boy escapes.

When I studied Drama History, I actually wrote my term paper on Noh drama, which is a type of theatre performance.  Lady Wakasa's mask-like makeup and slow, deliberate movements are exactly what you would see in a Noh drama.  These plays often focus on kami, or spirits, which is another way of foretelling us that Lady Wakasa is not of this world.

Genjuro finally comes clean to Lady Wakasa and tells him that he's already married and escapes.  But he learns the truth, that everything was an illusion!  Even the mansion they were staying in was actually burned down!

Genjuro returns home to his wife and child, but we know that his wife is not really there.  She returned one last time to see him and make sure her son was safe.  The next day, Genjuro learns that she was killed while he was busy cheating, and he feels bad.  Tobei and his wife who are back to their normal lives too, learn that having too much ambition and being greedy can ruin you.  I will give this film an 8/10.


  1. That moment when Genjuro realizes that his wife is dead and his son is alone is totally heartbreaking. The little boy is so sweet and fragile and reminds me a lot about my own son.