The concept of yin and yang describes the interconnectedness of opposites:
for example, light an dark, male and female, contraction ( yin) and expansion ( yang). It applies as well to social constructions such as good and evil, rich and poor, honor and dishonor. Applied to life, the concept can be a warning about the consequences of living on the edge. Extreme good will turn to evil; extreme wealth to poverty; extreme honor to dishonor, and so on. In the dance of these interacting forces, the best spot to be is in the center because the center is balance, peace, well-being. Only in the center can creation take place; only in balance can a human being exist in the present moment, unburdened of future tasks and past regrets.
Of course in the unfolding of life there is constant interplay between yin and yang. Yang gathers. Yin disperses. The interplay guarantees growth, change, and evolution. Remain balanced during all of this shifting is indeed a challenge. Sometimes individuals are pushed about by the forces of the universe, such as happens in periods of war. This is what happens to simple, good men and women in the celebrated Japanese film, Ugetsu. Watching the film from a yin and yang perspective, viewers reap a sense of forgiveness. A forgiveness given by the higher ups who made the film– let’s call it universal consciousness– to the simple men and women of Japan who participated in any way whatsoever, in the horrors of World War II.
Kenji Mizoguchi made the film in 1953, eight years after Hiroshima and Japan’s surrender. Rather than deal with modern war and forgiveness, he set his film in medieval Japan. The story is based on a popular Japanese Fairy tale.
A Quick synopsis: Genjuro is a potter who longs for wealth and luxury, while Tobei a farmer, dreams of the glories of the samurai. The two of them take off to the town of Nagahama to sell their wares, leaving their wives, Miyagi and Ōhama, behind in a small village. War rages around them. The men run into its jaws, looking for opportunity; the women want to hide and grasp safety. War is an extreme. It pushes people off balance, causes them to live on the edge.
Genjuro ends up in complete expansion. In t Nagahama, he not only finds success in selling his wares, he also ends up in a place of extreme luxury and in the arms of beautiful Lady Wakasa. . “I never knew such pleasures existed,” he says. Lady Wakasa convinces him to marry her.
Through efforts not his own, Tobei, who is a fool, ends up with the decapitated head of a powerful general. As his reward, the general of the opposing forces appoints Tobei a samurai and gives him a battalion of men. Tobei ends up in complete contraction: hard, a warrior.
The wives meet similar extremes: while her Genjuro is slothfully indulging in sake and food, Miyaki starves and is killed for a rice cake. Ohama, Tobei’s wife, is raped by soldiers and descends into a life of a prostitution.
Wheels of yin and yang continue to turn, with each scene fluidly finding it’s complement, or opposite. Night scenes cut to day scenes. Scenes of the wife splice to scene of husband. Fire to water. Ghost to reality. Dream to wakefulness. The men’s restless acquisitive nature and woman’s homing instinct force dance inside war.
In the end of the film, when war comes to a close, life adjusts. We’re back in the village. The characters must forgive each other to find their balance. The last scene sums it up: Genjuro stands at his potter’s wheel, centering his clay, creating.
Why yin and yang? The Japanese people had to pick up and go on, accept that war pushes them off balance, and realize that they might have made foolish mistakes but now, in the present, it was their responsibility to find the center, live in balance.
Ugetsu (雨月物語 Ugetsu monogatari?) (‘Tales of Moonlight and Rain’ or ‘Tales Of The Pale And Silvery Moon After The Rain’) is a 1953 film by Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi. Stars Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyō. Inspired by short stories by Ueda Akinari and Guy de Maupassant. It is Mizoguchi’s most celebrated film, regarded by critics as a masterwork of Japanese cinema.