The film is set in the 16th century, during Japan’s Civil Wars. The potter Genjuro and his brother-in-law Tobei are on their way to market when they are forced to leave their wives. Tobei pursues his dream of becoming a famous Samurai, while Genjuro falls under the spell of Lady Wakasa and is drawn into the realm of ghosts haunting her home … To give visual form to this enigmatic atmosphere, cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa paints with an infinite range of grey shades. Inspired by memories from his own childhood, and by Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay ‘Inei Raisan’ (1933; ‘In Praise of Shadows,’ 1970), Miyagawa used Tanizaki’s idea that black-and-white film was like ink wash painting, with the India ink providing boundless shades of grey. In 1953, audiences saw Ugetsu monogatari as a contrast to Rashomon, but it was no less celebrated in the West. Even today, Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece is considered to be ‘the apogee of the art of black-and-white film,’ partly due to the elegant transitions between the real and the unreal – ‘With his vigorous depiction of changes in light over time, Miyagawa created a black-and-white aesthetic specific to film that became independent of ink painting’ (Kayo Adachi-Rabe, 2004).
by Kenji Mizoguchi
with Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka