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Sansho the Bailiff (The Criterion Collection)
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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
Top Customer Reviews
I first saw this overwhelming masterpiece when I was ten (it was part of a Japanese film festival on my local PBS station decades ago). Even at my callow age, I was utterly floored by the power and beauty of Sansho. It was so expertly constructed that I could remember almost every scene twenty years later--particularly the scene where [...] disappears beneath the water in an act of self-sacrifice. It was so emotionally shattering and hauntingly beautiful that I never forgot it. At long last, when I was middle aged, Sansho appeared at my local art film theater and I went to see if it was as good as I remembered. It wasn't. It was even better! My memory hadn't exaggerated it. Sansho is a supreme work of cinematic art.
I suppose I could bore you with breathless descriptions of Mizoguchi's unsurpassed mastery of the camera, his amazing use of long takes and panoramic views, his Shakespearean humanism, his heartfelt sympathy for the downtrodden (particularly women), his elementally powerful yet intellectually sophisticated stories, his paradoxical combination of devastating intensity and Olympian detachment, etc. etc. But instead I will simply say: You must see this great, great work of art at least once before you die.
P.S. I have to join everyone else here in begging, pleading with Criterion or some other reputable company to PLEASE issue a restored version of this masterpiece on DVD soon! It's a crime that we don't have one yet.
First of all, thank you so much, Andrew (reviewer below), for letting us know about the truly excellent Films Sans Frontieres DVD edition (which also comes with a beautiful DVD of Mizoguchi's superb film "Crucified Lovers"). I got so tired of waiting for Criterion to put out a DVD of this film that I went ahead and ordered the two-disc set from XploitedCinema and was not disappointed by the quality. I have now given away my lousy Home Vision VHS tape. Until Criterion steps up, the Films Sans Frontieres edition is definitely the one to own!
Second of all, even though the label says Region-Two PAL, I am pretty sure that the Films Sans Frontiere DVDs are actually REGION-FREE NTSC discs, because I can play them on my Region-One NTSC player without any problem at all. So I don't think Americans will need a Multi-Region player to watch these fine films. I bet they will play just fine on their standard Region-One DVD players.
Third of all, I just want to approve what everybody else has said about how great this film is. It is a truly beautiful experience that will shatter your heart. There is nobody like Mizoguchi and no film like "Sansho Dayu".
10 stars for the wonderful film, 1.5 stars for the crummy video tape. Instead you should definitely get the French DVDs (with English sub-titles) put out by Films Sans Frontieres, available in the U.S. from XploitedCinema. You won't regret it!
Like Kurosawa, social responsibility is a strong theme in Mizoguchi's works. In "Sansho the Bailiff," we see a blending of the social classes, as an honest aristocrat is exiled, his wife sold to a brothel and his children made slaves, all because the aristocrat believed peasants deserved happiness as well, and that the aristocratic class had responsibilities to the peasants. Mixed together, you see cruelty and mercy amongst both classes, from the tyrannical Sansho and his friendly son Taro, or the martyred slave Namiji and the cruel Zushio willing to brand another slave on the head with a hot iron.
To this there is the message of mercy. "Be hard on yourself, but merciful to others" is the mantra passed from parent to child. A sacred image of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, is a family heirloom, passed down from generations as a reminder.
As in all Mizoguchi's films, it is ultimately the women who suffer, bearing the sins of men on their capable shoulders. Mizoguchi is considered a feminist in Japan, although the standards are different and most Americans would probably not consider "Sansho the Bailiff" a feminist film.
It is nice to see this important film get the Criterion treatment. Along with the usual pristine transfer and updated subtitles, a translated version of Ogai Mori's 1915 "Sansho Dayu," the story that inspired "Sansho the Bailiff," is also included.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A story about a noble family with Buddhist morality had to endure the unthinkable misery after the father was punished by the evil politicians. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Stacy
This is one of the truly magnificent movies ever made. The reunion scene is so moving--when the mother says to her son why they are able to see each other--because he follows his... Read morePublished 8 months ago by R. Monteclar
Not bad but a little disappointing. I'm a huge fan of Ozu and also like Kurosawa a lot. This was my first Mizoguchi. Read morePublished 9 months ago by moviemotion
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 10 months 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 13 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 21 months ago by William Flanigan
With the hundred's of new Films released each Year - and the Tens of thousands available on DVD and Cable TV etc. Read morePublished on May 8, 2014 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 on April 22, 2014 by Vladimir Antimonov