Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
Original title: Sansho Dayu
Japan, 1954. Daiei Studios. Screenplay by Yoshikata Yoda, idea by Hisakazu Tsuji, adaptation by Matsutaro Kawaguchi, based on the stories Asaji Ga Yado and Jasei No In by Akinari Ueda. Cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. Produced by Masaichi Nagata. Music by Fumio Hayasaka, Kinshichi Kodera, Tamekichi Mochizuki. Production Design by Hisakazu Tsuji. Costume Design by Shima Yoshizane. Film Editing by Mitsuzo Miyata.
Kenji Mizoguchi applies his emotionally palpable style to a Japanese legend that has been retold for centuries, finding endless depths of poignancy in its basic story of revenge and redemption. A local governor angers his superiors by being generous with his populace in a way that goes against standard law. Ousted from his position and in need of a quick escape, he sends his wife and two children ahead in the hopes that they will reach safety before him. Unfortunately, she falls into the hands of rough brigands who separate her from her young, sent to a remote island and forced to work in a bordello, while the children are exiled elsewhere and made to be slaves at the estate of a minister’s brutal bailiff. The years pass, the children grow, and never forget their origins or their desire to go back to their family. That’s just the plot outline, but the detail with which it is told, and the deeply shaded characterizations that arise from Mizoguchi’s marvelous direction, are the wonder to behold. A grand tragedy whose effect is felt long after the conclusion.
The Criterion Collection: #386