Category Archives: Japanese



Director Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo

Scott’s Review #1,147

Reviewed May 31, 2021

Grade: A

Kenji Mizoguchi, who directed the brave Japanese masterpiece, Ugetsu (1953), successfully brought Eastern cinema to Western audiences when the film was discovered. The result is a groundbreaking ghost story that fuses reality with the supernatural in gorgeous ways.

It’s not always clear what is going on but in only the best of ways. It’s like being inside a dream.

The notice is a long time coming since Mizoguchi had been making films since the 1920s! But his forever stamp on cinema is worth the wait and Ugetsu is a timeless treasure.

Ugetsu is not the easiest plot to follow but that is fine because its brilliance lies in other areas. Like, every area to be clear.

The cinematography, the mix of reality and the supernatural, the tone, the questioning messages, and the character conflict all add muscle.

It’s cinema to be experienced and mesmerized by. Haunting, sad, and stoic, it explores themes such as war, family, and forbidden relationships.

Its cultural exploration is important and teaches Japanese customs. This film taught me what great cinema is- not necessarily linear or explained, but drenched with brilliance, thoughtfulness, and art. I was able to escape the confines of traditionally constructed films and it was an awakening in pleasure and creativity.

The lesson learned is great cinema knows no boundaries and the film was helpful to open my eyes to types and styles of films that may be deemed difficult.

Drawing its plot, particularly from Ueda’s tales “The House in the Thicket” and “The Lust of the White Serpent”, the film is set in Azuchi–Momoyama period Japan (1573–1600). Mizoguchi was fascinated and inspired by these fables and the supernatural style from the long-ago stories is powerful and classic.

A peasant farmer and potter, Genjūrō (Masayuki Mori) leaves his wife and young son behind during the civil war and is seduced by a spirit that threatens his life. He finds himself at a Kutsuki mansion to sell his pottery.

The mansion is run by fabulous Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) who seduces him and requests he marry her.

But is Lady Wakasa real or a ghost from the past? She harbors a horrific secret.

A subplot involves Genjūrō’s friend, Tōbei (Eitaro Ozawa), who dreams of becoming a great samurai and chases this goal at the unintended expense of his wife. He steals the head of a well-known general and is rewarded with shiny armor. Eager to tell his wife he instead finds her working at a local brothel.

The costumes specifically deserve a shout-out. Drenched in Japanese drawings and colors they are exquisite to the eye despite Ugetsu being a black-and-white film. The obvious art looks better without color adding mystique.

My favorite visual is when two couples drift along in a boat on a tremendous lake. Amid fog and haze, the scene is gloomy yet magnificent offering lush Japanese geography. It’s a breathtaking visual with a fabulous texture and tone that, once again, is aided by black-and-white filmmaking.

The ghost story also is aided by the black and white cinematography. Isn’t everything? The scenes seem to scroll by in a fusion of live-action and gorgeous landscapes.

What is reality and what is not is up for debate. This adds to the confusion and overall beauty.

The humanity and moral conflict the two main characters face are hearty and worthy of discussion. They strive for great success and riches but live in a cruel world.

I found the men to be heroes. Ugetsu is as much a character study as it is an art film.

Ugetsu (1953) is a must-see for film lovers and those intrigued by other cultures. It should appear on lists of superior films shown at film schools if it is not already.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Black and White

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya-2014

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya-2014

Director Isao Takahata

Starring (Voices) Chloë Grace Moretz, Darren Criss

Scott’s Review #430


Reviewed June 23, 2016

Grade: B+

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is a Japanese animated film released in 2014.

It is a unique film- mixing elements of fantasy and drama- stunning to experience and appreciate from a creative perspective. Unusual still is the lengthy running time of two hours and seventeen minutes- animated films are typically on the short side.

This is not to say that it drags, although I found it helpful to view it in segments.

Originally made in Japanese, the film has been dubbed in English and features recognizable voices such as Mary Steenburgen, Lucy Lui, and James Caan.

A bamboo cutter, Miyatsuko, discovers a baby girl inside a bamboo tree one day. He and his wife consider her a divine presence and keep her as their own, naming her Princess Kaguya.

Mysteriously, she begins to grow and develop at an alarming rate and is the wonder of the village. Kaguya develops a playful crush on Sutemaru, a handsome peasant.  Kaguya, led by her parents, is taken into a life of nobility and wealth as her destiny.

Her governess attempts to mold her into a regal Princess, but Kaguya is a wandering, free spirit, and rejects the formalities of this life. Her myriad of wealthy suitors counters her feelings for Sutemaru.

From a story perspective, the film shines, as the conflict over wealth versus poverty is explored. Kaguya’s parents are not greedy, but they want her to receive just desserts and a life free of hardship- as they are used to.

They want something better for her.

One can relate to the parent’s views, but Kaguya feels differently. She wants freedom, love, and happiness, not a life of rules, procedures, smoke and mirrors.

The filmmakers present the viewpoint of someone “other-worldly”  observing and analyzing planet Earth, warts and all, so the film has a message. It is not cliched or overbearing in its approach though-merely honest and sincere.

Every frame in the film appears to be a gorgeous drawing- not conventional, fast-paced animation, but classic, muted, pastel-type colors are used, giving it a softer touch, which astounded me.

If one is not into the story (tough to imagine), one could easily sit back and marvel at the spectacle.

The growing trend in animated films seems to be a return to traditional drawings- think Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from the 1960s- as evidenced by The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya and Anomalisa (2015), two recent animated features receiving critical acclaim.

This is music to my ears as these are far superior to the redundant, CGI-laden films.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film