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Ugetsu: Seeing double

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    Vili Maunula

    I’m not sure if this signifies anything, but there is an interesting narrative motif in Ugetsu, which has to do with doubles. The film was of course based on two individual stories, but it goes further than that, and the contrasts seem at times to be quite meticulously planned out.

    In the film, we of course have two couples. One man appears to be working to please his wife, while the other aims to attain glory only for himself. The two men practically abandon their wives simultaneously.

    The fates of the female and male protagonists are then contrasted, although here the couples’ fates are crossed. Ohama is first raped by soldiers, beginning her personal downfall. In the very next scene, Genjuro is sexually seduced by Lady Wakasa, which starts his paradise sequence. One goes down, the other goes up. Sex is involved in both cases.

    Very similarly, Miyagi is later killed on the road, that death literally causing her downfall. In the very next scene, we are shown how Tobei witnesses a beheading and steals a general’s head. This begins his own “paradise sequence” as a man of importance. Again, one character goes down, the other goes up. Death is involved in both fates.

    I have no idea what these couplings stand for, apart from Mizoguchi’s apparent desire to compare and contrast things. The title of the film of course is “Tales of the Moon and Rain”. Yet another pairing.

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    Ugetsu

    I was watching High and Low a couple of nights ago (I’m catching up on dvd viewing due to being homebound at the moment with a foot injury thanks to a misguided attempt to take up jogging!), and that film certainly has a constant dualism, so its an obvious comparison.

    My initial thought on this is that the constant contrast between pairs or doubles in Ugetsu Monogatari is a by-product of its source as two similar stories. I think that if you wrote out a timeline, it would become fairly clear that the script deliberately balanced out the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ of the various plot threads. You are right that both of the male characters achieve heights of ecstasy while hitting depths of despair – however the ‘pairing’ of the wives doesn’t work so well. I suspect therefore that there wasn’t intended to be a deeper meaning to the various dualism’s within the film (in comparison to High and Low, where they are fundamental to the story).

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    lawless

    Vili – I think these doubles, as you call them, were deliberate, but meant to create a symmetrical structure, or maybe it’s more of an asymmetrical structure, but at any rate, one action is balanced by another. If you’re right, Mizoguchi’s desire to show Tobei remaining a samurai and abandoning his wife would contrast with Genjuro’s return to his senses and his family, and by changing the ending, the studio also changed the symmetry or balance of the movie.

    Ugetsu: I’m sorry to hear that you injured your foot! Best wishes for a quick recovery. But at least it is giving you the opportunity to catch up on your DVD watching now that the DVD player no longer has something stuck inside it.

    however the ‘pairing’ of the wives doesn’t work so well. I suspect therefore that there wasn’t intended to be a deeper meaning to the various dualism’s within the film.

    In what way does the pairing of the wives not work so well?

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    In what way does the pairing of the wives not work so well?

    I just mean in terms of their stories not following a specific contrasting or matching cycle of ecstasy and humiliation. In this sense the husbands adventures were tied together. While for the women it just went from bad to worse (although maybe this was the point). Except of course at the very end when Ohama triumphs (if you can call it that) by having her man back working on the land.

    Perhaps, thinking of it, this was Mizoguchi’s point – the men were pursuing their adventures, the women were suffering the consequences.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I understand better what you’re saying now that you mention that the adventures of the husbands (who are brothers but who are not referred to as such in the spoken script, which seems a waste) are at least nominally tied together whereas the women separate almost immediately and suffer their individual, separate tragedies. But, as you concluded, I think this is the point. Not only do the men pursue their adventures and the women suffer the consequences, the women suffer the consequences outside the care and safety of the community from which they came because their husbands’ adventures take them away from that community.

    I am tempted to do a post about the relative status of women vs. men in this movie, or even Mizoguchi’s movies in general. Mizoguchi relentlessly shows how bad decisions on the part of men affect women, but he offers no solution other than for the men to listen to the women in the first place. That would require a near-revolutionary change in worldview and power shift, and I think Mizoguchi knew it wasn’t likely to happen in his lifetime, if at all. I’m not even sure he personally would want it to, considering how he wrecked Tanaka’s opportunity to direct, which smacks of insecurity, either that she would be too good a director or would no longer be available as an actor..

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    who are brothers but who are not referred to as such in the spoken script, which seems a waste

    I didn’t pick up that they are brothers – in fact, I thought they referred to each other at one point as ‘brother in law’. I thought that maybe Genichi was the brother of Ohama. I’d have to look again to check on that.

    I’m not even sure he personally would want it to, considering how he wrecked Tanaka’s opportunity to direct, which smacks of insecurity, either that she would be too good a director or would no longer be available as an actor..

    What exactly happened with Tanaka? I know she directed six films that weren’t a success – I thought that Ozu and Mizoguchi were thought to have actively encouraged her? The only other comment I can find on the topic was someone on another forum mentioning that in Japan it was thought that she found it hard to persuade other big name actresses to work with her out of jealousy (unlikely, but possible I suppose).

    On that topic, I was searching through Richies ‘A Hundred Years of Japanese Film‘ to see if he discussed Tanaka as a director (I thought he did, but I can’t find any reference to it, maybe it was in another book), I came across this quote from Mizoguchi about Ozu (page 130). ‘I portray the extraordinary in a realistic way. Ozu portrays the ordinary in a realistic way – which is even more difficult‘. I think the first half that comment is very much spot on as a description of much of Ugetsu Monogatari.

    Further, on the topic of dualism, Richie writes:

    Certainly one finds in Mizoguchi, particularly in the postwar films, a balance between classic poles: the acceptance of traditional values (the affirmation of the home, the joy of finding freedom in restraint) and the vindication f the individual (the impatience with restraint, the criticism of older values, the joy of overcoming obstacles and enlarging horizons). This is especially apparent in a single but important aspect of Mizoguchi’s later films: his treatment of women. The director’s major theme (in site of his eclecticism, all of Mizoguchi’s pictures can be seen as arranged around a theme) is women: their position, or lack of it; their difference from men; their relations with men; and the intricate relationship between women and love.

    Ugetsu (Ugetsu Monogatari, 1953) presents the theme in perfected form. A potter (Mori Masayuki), caught between opposing forces in the sixteenth-century civil wars, leaves his wife (Tanaka Kinuyo) and small son behind, and goes to sell his wares. There, a beautiful lady (Kyo Machiko) buys his stock, takes him home, and seduces him. He stays on only to awaken and find both mansion and lady gone. He has been enchanted; the lady was a ghost. When he finally reaches home, he discovers his wife waiting for him. When he awakens the next morning, he discovers that she, too, already dead, was also a spirit.

    The two women might represent the opposite ends of Mizoguchi’s theme. This is more than simply profane versus sacred love. Rather, both women died wanting love. The spirit in the haunted mansion is to be equated, not contrasted, with the loyal and loving wife. They are equal, and it is this parallel that interests Mizoguchi.’

    I think its interesting that Richie focuses on the dualism in the womens stories rather than in the mens (the latter of which which seemed more obvious to me). However, the last paragraph doesn’t match my interpretation of the end of the film. While she died alone, surely you can’t say she died ‘without love’? It seems clear that before the war they had a loving relationship and the period the film covers could be described as a ‘blip’ in that relationship, not the loss of love. After all, Genjuro sent her home to protect her, not to reject her (although of course he may have had an ulterior motive). I think that if you want to push this notion of Miyagi and Wakasa as part of a dualism, surely the point is that Lady Wakasa, who died without being loved, is condemned to roam the earth as a lost spirit, while Miyagi is (as shown by her final appearance comforting her husband and son) a ‘contented’ ghost, still part of her family and buried within her home village, her grave tended by her son.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: If you’re right, Mizoguchi’s desire to show Tobei remaining a samurai and abandoning his wife would contrast with Genjuro’s return to his senses and his family, and by changing the ending, the studio also changed the symmetry or balance of the movie.

    That’s a good point, lawless!

    Ugetsu: I didn’t pick up that they are brothers – in fact, I thought they referred to each other at one point as ‘brother in law’. I thought that maybe Genichi was the brother of Ohama. I’d have to look again to check on that.

    That’s exactly how I understood it as well, with one correction: isn’t Genichi Genjuro’s son, so I assume you meant that Genjuro is the brother of Ohama? Many people writing on the film seem to think of Genjuro and Tobei as brothers, but Ohama calls Genjuro her brother at around 10:10. This is also so translated in the Eureka release’s subtitles, while the Criterion subtitles for some reason replace the word “brother” with “Genjuro” (at least according to the subtitle file I found online). In any case, I think that Genjuro and Ohama’s relationship throughout the films is quite sibling-like — much more so than Genjuro and Tobei’s.

    Thanks for the Richie quote, Ugetsu. I fully agree with your comments on it. It’s an interesting take on the film though, looking at the two ghosts. Another pairing, there. Pairs everywhere! (Well, I suppose you can find numerous contrasting pairs in just about any film.)

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