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WHEN AN IDEALISTIC GOVERNOR DISOBEYS THE REIGNING FEUDAL LORD, HE IS CAST INTO EXILE, HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN LEFT TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES AND EVENTUALLY WRENCHED APART BY VICIOUS SLAVE DRIVERS. UNDER KENJI MIZOGUCHIS DAZZLING DIRECTION, THIS CLASSIC JAPANESE STORY BECAME ONE OF CINEMAS GREATEST MASTERPIECES, A MONUMENTAL, EMPATHETIC EXPRESSION OF HUMAN RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF EVIL.
On certain days, and in certain moods, it would be easy enough to declare that Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff is the greatest movie ever made. No disrespect intended to Citizen Kane or The Rules of the Game or North by Northwest, for on certain other days those movies might be Numero Uno. But Mizoguchi's magnificent 1954 film is in the running. The story is a kind of emotional epic, although it's quite simple in its outline: a family in medieval Japan is brutally broken up, the mother (Kinuyo Tanaka) carried off into prostitution and two children sold into slavery. When the children, Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) and Anju (Kyoko Kagawa), are grown, their bondage to the pitiless slaveowner Sansho will end, but in different ways.
The arc of this story is beautiful in itself, but Mizoguchi's telling of the tale is extraordinary. His moving camera seems weightless, and he effortlessly reminds us of how we've returned to certain key images that chart the progress of the characters: the breaking of a tree branch, the way water can swallow up a life, a song that ties together different lives and different places. As for the final sequence, it achieves a rare power, a mix of emotional tones reminiscent of the end of The Searchers. Mizoguchi made Sansho (Sansho Dayu in its original title) after having made The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu in the previous two years--surely one of the great creative bursts for any filmmaker. Yes, lavish praise can sometimes be dangerous, but now that we've got your attention, Sansho will make its own eloquent case. --Robert Horton
On the DVD
The Criterion Collection has a beautiful print of Sansho the Bailiff and a few illuminating extras. Most valuable are the new interviews with three people who knew Mizoguchi: a critic, an assistant director, and actress Kyoko Kagawa; all emphasize Mizoguchi as a director obsessed with the acting (and a taskmaster in the William Wyler-Stanley Kubrick mode), and suggest that his soaring use of long takes was designed to serve the performances. A booklet gives two versions of the original story source, plus a thoughtful essay by Mark Le Fanu. The commentary by Japanese-literature professor Jeffrey Angles puts its emphasis on cultural background rather than film criticism. --Robert Horton
On its surface, "Sansho the Bailiff" is the story of an aristocratic family sold into slavery after the father, a provincial official, is exiled after defying his superiors. Read morePublished 14 days ago by Larry Benjamin
This 1954 movie, set in Medieval Japan, and directed by Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi is a great adventure film. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Andres C. Salama
A photoplay version of an ancient folk tale from when commercial slavery was an important contributor to regional Japanese economies (the so-called "Dark Ages" of some 1,200 years... Read morePublished 11 months ago by William F. Flanigan Jr.
With the hundred's of new Films released each Year - and the Tens of thousands available on DVD and Cable TV etc. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Book & Music thief, from HI
This movie is rated higher than any other Japanese movie on Amazon, but during and after watching it I could not help but feel deceived because instead of the development of the... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Vladimir Antimonov
Found this blu in a small shop in MD., on a Criterion shelf with but a few titles. New: $16! Had never heard of title nor director, but it being an "inexpensive" (! Read morePublished 22 months ago by Jrum C.
This director is not afraid of the dark side of a story. Very sad, gets sadder as it progresses. Also rather beautiful.Published on June 23, 2013 by Chai Latte fan
A Nikkatsu silent film star turned director, Kenji Mizoguchi similar to Japanese filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, having directed many films and in his 86-film... Read morePublished on March 30, 2013 by [KNDY] Dennis A. Amith