Oh God not another black and white peasant flic. Just kidding, I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Ugetsu is a film about—wait, what is it about? Let me consult the Criterion insert essay—first throw away their little advert—done—now read.
Hmmm…So that was what I just saw.
So basically, the major themes are “Who wants to be a Samurai?” and “feudal Japanese countryside,” which some have said is only a minor theme, but I say it’s major. Yes, I suppose there are some pretty exquisite stills in the special features, but at times the choreography seems haphazard (even natural) instead of carefully crafted and labored over. Sounds like someone had a case of the lazies to me. In 7 Samurais, Toshire Mifune rages and stumbles madly, whereas the characters in Ugetsu just sort of flop around or don’t move at all.
Let me consult the insert notes, again.
Hmmm…yes, I suppose I do care about the characters in Ugetsu and what’s going to happen, it’s just that Mizo—wait—Miso—Mizoguchi? seems far too patient and not at all interested in taking advantage of my willingness to be manipulated, to have my sense of anticipation abused and my ability to tolerate suspense pushed to its limitations. Ah but it’s quite another story with Kurosawa’s 7 Samurais where any two people who are about to duel will stand around for quite some time actually leading up to it. A technique, which I might add, would allow Leone to do the same thing in all those westerns. And those had Clint Eastwood! Now that’s what I call influential.
In Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, as Hoichi (The Earless) is lead to play a concert for the ghosts, hot damn if you can’t wait to see them—the ghosts I mean—what with all that off-screen buildup and eiry (eeiri?—how do you spell) howling noises. And what about when that brash young lord rides horse clickity clickity shooting those targets, haunted by thoughts of his wife? I was sweating something awful, sure he was going to fire one of those arrows straight into one of the judges. And worst of all, it’s like, sometimes they (the Ugetsu people) didn’t even bother to have everything on sets. It’s like they just went outside and filmed stuff, right there, outside! Man, please. Show a little respect. People have to earn a living you know, set builders I mean. Spend some Yuan. Tight wads, is what we used to call people like that.
Someone else may come along and say those things are not desirable, heavy handed, gimmicky even. Better to stand back and let the story tell itself—big long peasant stories cannot be rushed. Not every film has to have intense close-ups of monomaniacal sneers and eyebrow raises. Bunch of pussies. Don’t listen to them.
Criterion, please get off your ass and give me a reason.