In sixteenth-century Japan, with the pandemonium of civil war a looming presence in their lives, the potter Genjuro and his wife (Kinuyo Tanaka) long to be “rich and safe,” respectively. But artistic vanity draws Genjuro into the paradisiacal realm of a phantom enchantress, played with devilish élan by Machiko Kyo. In Ugetsu, the all-too-real and the supernatural move steadily toward each other, just as Mizoguchi's images overflow with life-characters forever running off toward more life outside the frame-so this reality flows into the phantom universe as well. Mizoguchi builds an eerie netherworld entirely out of what he is given in this one: shadows and lighting, decor and texture, and the graceful chicanery of human desire. All ephemeral beauty and emotional manipulation (her flattery of his pottery bewitches Genjuro as much as her appearance), Kyo defines the devilish arts of seduction, while Tanaka provides a more grounded appeal with her patient, tranquil love.

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