Sansho The Bailiff (1954)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBBB

Original title:  Sansho Dayu

Japan, 1954.  Screenplay by , idea by , adaptation by , based on the stories Asaji Ga Yado and Jasei No In by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by , , .  Production Design by Hisakazu Tsuji.  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

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

Venice Film Festival Award: Silver Lion


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