I watched a couple more old movies!
I had really really high hopes for this given how much I’ve enjoyed other period ghost movies in the past, and they were largely met! The movie’s very well put together, with frequent gorgeous shots (the boat sequence in the mist is lovely!) and clear storytelling that suits the fairy tale like subject matter, about Sengoku-period commoners seeking money and glory and losing sight of supporting the lives they already had in the process. It’s the first movie I’ve seen from the extremely well-regarded director, Kenji Mizoguchi, and I’d like to see more.
I think the only thing stopping it from absolutely meeting my lofty expectations, is that compared to other movies that I’ve enjoyed like Kwaidan, Kuroneko, or Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, this one is older and I’d say has less of an element of strangeness. Like the vibe is 100% “classic,” which makes for a plenty great movie but maybe satisfies less the part of me wanting weird or cult horror (through no actual fault). The supernatural stuff that is there is awfully cool though! (Love the scenes with the ghost of the father) I enjoyed it very much but didn’t outright love it the way I did the other movie I watched that night (the kung fu movie King Boxer / Five Fingers of Death), which just speaks to where my headspace was at at the time and my expectations going in more than the movie itself.
One major qualm I do have is it’s very much a movie about husbands’ actions and growth where their wives’ role in the story is largely to suffer heavy consequences of those actions to elicit that growth. The wives themselves are interesting and sympathetic and well-acted (the wife who is raped and goes to work in a brothel after her husband abandons her for counterfeit military glory comes across as the most competent person in the movie by the end) and I would have preferred if they were more the focus of the movie themselves instead of just a vector for the husbands to bumble into life lessons. Oh well.
I watched Ugetsu with Japanese subtitles from a Japanese blu-ray - and I could do that pretty much without thinking about it, which is cool!
This is another movie from the Criterion Channel’s set of Japanese noir movies. I hadn’t ever heard of it before and had no real expectations based on the bland name, but I saw that it’s adapted from a short story, so I thought why not - might as well read that first (it’s the first one in this collection). And I’m really glad I did because seeing how the story was adapted added a really fascinating layer of context to the movie!
The short story is very simple and straightforward: a detective takes a train from Yokohama to Kyushu in order to stakeout the house of a murder suspect’s former lover who is now a housewife with step children, on the hunch that the suspect will make contact with her. He does, and the suspect and housewife run off to a hot spring together, leading to a chase followed by an arrest, and the detective notes that in all the time he observed her, she only seemed full of life with the suspect, but he makes sure she isn’t caught up in the arrest and gives her the means to go back to her regular life in time for nobody to realize she was gone. The end.
After reading it, I wondered idly how you would adapt that into a movie. Not being a screenwriter, I came up with no particular ideas, and if somehow hired for the task anyway, would have produced an 80 minute bland retelling of what happened in the book.
Fortunately – it turns out the screenwriter for this movie is Shinobu Hashimoto, an extremely well-versed screenwriter and frequent Akira Kurosawa collaborator, incl. on Seven Samurai, adapting Rashomon, etc. So it’s very safe to say he knew exactly what he was doing and was far, far better suited to the task than me, a non-writer who spent like ten minutes thinking about it.
The result makes for a really interesting case study in how to adapt story like this.
The movie makes several major changes – all of which I think strongly benefit the movie:
- Instead of one detective, it’s two detectives on the stakeout. This one’s obvious in retrospect - it’s a movie, there needs to be someone to talk to!
- Heavily emphasize the weather and heat of the Kyushu summer. There’s basically no scene in the movie without fans or cicadas or someone complaining about the heat, or trying to cool off. This injects a ton of life into the movie both by making the setting sensory and evocative and by ramping up the tension – how do you show sitting around waiting for something to happen is tense? Make the act of sitting around palpably miserable because of how hot it is.
- Fill out some subplots. The movie adds the background that the detective is trying to decide whether to marry his girlfriend despite difficulties they would have supporting themselves or go with a comfortable match put together by his family, giving him a clear arc based on what he observes on the stakeout as he decides to marry his girlfriend at the end of the movie, and it also adds more interaction with the staff of the in where the detectives stay, adding tension as the staff wonder who these mysterious layabouts are, and additional perspective on the theme of the movie once the tension is resolved and the innkeeper gives her perspective on women’s married life to the protagonist.
- Add more false alarms – the short story oddly doesn’t really have these. They go a long way to fill out the runtime and make the tension of the wait come across and make for some tense sequences all on their own (like the downpour scene or the bus scene I think are great)
The result is something that’s both a very faithful rendition of the original story, that also works particularly well for film. I saw afterward he won multiple industry awards for this screenplay at the time, so I guess it wasn’t just me who was impressed!
That process of going in with no expectations really at all and finding something interesting was very satisfying! It’s still a very simple story, that’s mostly about waiting, and I don’t like that it’s ultimately about a man feeling he knows a woman’s heart just by watching her, but I never found it uninteresting because you see a whole lot of 1950s Japan, from a whole train ride south, to a lot of Saga and the Kyushu countryside. That was present in the story too, but totally blossoms on screen. There’s also a great late title card.
I watched it on the criterion channel with English subtitles and didn’t do a very good job of remembering to try to not look at them. That probably doesn’t make for spectacular listening practice, which is ostensibly the point of the thread… but hopefully nobody minds if I post about these movies anyway.