Kenji Mizoguchi's 1953 masterpiece is a devastating and timeless ghost story about the cost of war.
Oh, huh. I never took the reuniting at the end as fantasy (as-in, it's something purely that he imagined), but rather, like Lady Wakasa, a ghostly, supernatural visit of something lost in the times of war; though a departing visit from his wife and not one that will happen again.
Perfect film and its gradual drop down the list is undoubtedly one of many reasons why I’m unable to take the Sight and Sound list as seriously as I might have in the past.
Janus/Criterion really could have done a better job trying to put him on equal footing with Kurosawa and Ozu - “Criterion-core” definitely had an oversized influence on the Sight and Sound list and they haven’t done anything with Mizoguchi’s filmography in six years (and even then there’s only the two of his films that are ever really talked about over here) so I think a lot of the voters with shallower film histories easily gloss over him.
Funny Ugetsu anecdote. I attended a revival screening at a local theater. In front of me were two boisterous bros, all high fiving and absolutely pumped. They were openly questioning the composition of the audience though ahead of the screening. As it turns out they thought they were attending a screening of Return of the Jedi which was the revival screening the week before. I gathered they bought the tickets online and mixed up the dates.
To their credit, once they realized their mistake they decided to watch Ugetsu anyway, and to the film's credit they stayed awake, engaged, and at the end were just as wrecked as the rest of the audience.
If I were to hazard a guess on the diminishing regard for this film, it does squarely present a world where women have no agency. That's just a tough pill for modern audiences to swallow, even if it was presented as sympathetic for its day. Whatever griping may go on in social media, audiences embrace self-determined women. You could argue the Lady Wakasa does have some degree of agency, as the last "surviving" member of her house, but even as a spirit she's bound to fulfilling her familial obligations. The other women are little more than slaves in their own homes. The scene on the lake where the husbands make their wives row pictured in the article just felt wrong.
I went on a serious Mizoguchi binge a few years back, taking in all of his films released by Criterion and a few that haven’t thanks to a friend who had them in VHS. (Princess Yang Kwei Fei is one that deserves a higher profile.) Along with Naruse, he is seriously undervalued.