One of Kenji Mizoguchi’s last films (he made seven more from 1953-1956), Ugetsu is an attentively created work of art. Blending a traditional Japanese fable with contemporary filmmaking technique, Mizoguchi is able to craft an enduring tale of moralistic integrity. Mizoguchi’s adept handling of the more supernatural elements invoke a sense of wonder instead of bewilderment, and perfectly portray the overarching spirituality of 16th century Japan.
Diligent farmers Genjûrô (Masayuki Mori) and Tôbee (Eitarô Ozawa) have dreams much larger than their current circumstances, and decide to use the impending civil war to their advantage. Genjûrô’s hobby, pottery, pays off when he is able to make more money than he or his conscientious wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), have ever seen. Enlisting the help of Tôbee and his wife, Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), Genjûrô and his wife put everything they have into one large batch of pottery. When the army arrives in their village ahead of schedule, they must flee into the mountains – but not before they gather up the freshly-baked pottery. Going ahead with their plans, Genjûrô leaves his wife and son, and sets off across a lake with Tôbee and Ohama to strike it rich in a bigger town.
Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête), Jean Cocteau’s follow up to his surrealist masterpiece The Blood of a Poet, is an astounding achievement in postwar filmmaking, which benefits greatly from Cocteau’s directorial tendencies and prowess. Incredibly vivid images permeate the film, as does Cocteau’s penchant for visual effects and beauty. Shot using a mixture of film stocks, as supply was limited after the war, and with a staggered production schedule due to an illness Cocteau suffered during filming, Beauty and the Beast somehow benefits from the reality-altering stock changes, and directorial stand-in (René Clément replaced Cocteau while he was in the hospital).
Beauty and the Beast is, of course, based on the story penned by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Belle (Josette Day) lives with her struggling father, layabout brother, and two (this is a fairytale, remember) evil step sisters. When Belle’s father loses his way in the forest, he comes upon a slowly-decaying castle. Searching the premises, he picks a single rose to as a gift for his beloved daughter, when a Beast lumbers out of the forest. Threatening the man’s life, Beast (Jean Marais) proposes that either the old man dies, or he must send one of his daughters in his place. Upon hearing her father’s predicament, Belle makes the decision for him, and rides off into the woods to her unknown fate.