Jumping into the Frame

The time has come; I am finally doing my first blog post! I’ve decided to describe in detail a scene from a movie. I’ve chosen to look a short segment from Ugetsu Monogatari. It is actually the scene where the still, which is featured on my banner is from. Honestly, I chose this movie because I think this exercise in description is a great example of how to watch a foreign film. Sometimes we get too bogged down in understanding and reading subtitles that we don’t really take in the visual or auditory aspects of the scene. For this post I took off the subtitles and really just immersed myself in the diagesis.

Here we go:

The night is dark. A dense fog has formed over the lake. It looks like smoke, pale yet all-consuming. A canoe approaches from the distance. As it lulls through the fog the small canoe and its passengers become clearer. A woman dressed in kimono looms tall over the vessel. She rocks back and forth with the boat as she pushes and pulls the oar. All we can hear is the splash of the oar as it moves through the dark water. She begins to sing, first softly and then more clearly. Her lone voice unaccompanied, except for the sounds of the water lapping against the vessel. Her song becomes part of the atmosphere, more than just a mere human creation. Her tone is tragic. Her voice sounds like a deep lamentation, perfectly mirroring the oppressiveness of the ever-present fog. The sight is reminiscent of tales of Arthur journeying to Avalon to call upon the Lady of the Lake.

As the boat approaches the camera, we cut to a closer shot of the other passengers on the ship. We first see two men. They are sitting casually on the boat gulping down sake from a bowl. They are constantly drinking and refilling their glasses, seemingly oblivious to the “magic” around them. Another woman on the boat sits with her son on her lap. She is looking out at the water smiling, while her son seems troubled. Throughout this shot these other characters are eating and speaking without a care, but the woman’s song carries on as she continues to rhythmically row. The sounds of the water and her voice underline the conversation. The camera cuts away from the others and moves closer to our singer. Here we see her tired eyes and disheveled hair. She sways with the boat; her movements are fluid mimicking the water all around her. Suddenly she stops everything and looks off-screen. She stops singing. The camera cuts to a shot of another boat approaching. It appears to be unmanned as it comes ominously through the fog.

The scene is silent, except for the water lapping up against the boat. The boat gets closer and closer. We get another shot; this time with both boats in the frame. They are almost touching when one of the men pulls the mysterious boat parallel with their own. It has gotten much darker now. The black of the water creates a stark contrast with the white fog. We, the audience, cannot see anything in this foreign boat, it is completely shrouded in that deep black. In the meantime, the passengers look into the boat. We see them flinch in disgust and fear flash on their faces…

To find out more you’ll have to watch!