Film Review: Sansho the Bailiff (1954) by Kenji Mizoguchi

Relating to the works by Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi, it’s attention-grabbing how he has been perceived as a real grasp lengthy earlier than particularly the West took discover of his colleagues Akira Kurosawa or Yasujiro Ozu. Maybe considered one of this hottest and beloved options, amongst many others, it’s his 1954 film “Sansho the Bailiff”, primarily based on a narrative by creator Ogai Mori, which take care of the values of humanity and mercy in our world, amongst different points. For his work, Mizoguchi obtained the Silver Lion at Venice Movie Pageant 1954 and the High 10 Movie Award from Cahiers du Cinema in 1960.

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The story takes place within the eleventh century throughout the Center Ages, when the landowners and their vassals dominated the nation with an iron fist, with many farmers and their households working for them beneath powerful situations. Nevertheless, one governor opposes this method and is forged out by the feudal lord, alongside together with his household, which causes concern among the many folks in his area, now scared that they should reside beneath the identical situations as their friends in different provinces. To make issues worse, the governor is afraid the lord’s wrath might trigger hurt to his spouse and his two kids, his son Zushio and his daughter Anju, in order that he orders them to go away instantly. On the highway, they fall sufferer to slave merchants, who separate the mom from their kids, who’re ultimately offered to Sansho (Eitaro Shindo), a bailiff notorious for his merciless system of exploitation and violence.

Six years go by and Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) alongside together with his sister (Kyoko Kagawa) have realized to outlive the day by day hardships by Sansho and his males. Whereas her brother has develop into one of many bailiff’s enforcers, Anju tries her finest honoring the values of empathy and mercy, as taught by their father, and urges him to assist her search for a method to escape. When she overhears a girl singing an elegy a couple of mom who misplaced her kids, she decides to flee and hunt down her mom earlier than it’s too late. Nevertheless, getting by to Zushio is kind of arduous and escaping Sansho much more so, particularly since he additionally enjoys the safety of the feudal lord.

Very like his colleague Kurosawa, Mizoguchi appears additionally within the query in what approach tyranny, exploitation and violence are basically systemic, slightly than being related to at least one particular person or regime. Nevertheless, whereas the previous explored the problem by looking at ideas equivalent to bushido, the latter has chosen fairly a distinct path, which within the case of “Sansho the Bailiff” revolves across the titular character, performed by Eitaro Shindo, in addition to the kids of the governor, who’re offered to him as slaves. Although the story sees him do (and order) some very horrific issues, every character appears to include the flexibility to tell apart proper from and incorrect, has good and dangerous sides. On the identical time, it’s the system, the feudal order, affirming these unfavourable tendencies inside an individual’s soul, with the guarantees of a better revenue and the next standing leading to among the most heinous crimes Sansho turns into responsible of.

By way of appearing, this concept defines additionally the performances in “Sansho the Bailiff, most particularly the connection of Sansho, Zushio and Anju. Whereas his sister and the bailiff signify the extremes of each side inside society, Zushio’ willingness to reside by the rules of humanity and understanding, instilled by his father, turns into a check for the younger man. Yoshiaki Hanayagi provides a terrific efficiency as a younger man torn between these two tendencies in his atmosphere, which can end in him being one other vicious, however attainable fairly wealthy henchman (and ruler), or an individual like his father. Mizoguchi, together with co-writer Fuji Yahiro, spotlight this dilemma inside the character, exhibiting how the battle between the 2 tendencies is one in each man, and in the end pose the query whether or not persons are truly able to following humanist values.

Other than the appearing and its themes, “Sansho the Bailiff” can be notable for Kazuo Miyagawa’s cinematography. Every composition emphasizes the conflicts the characters, exhibiting how they’re trapped and add weight to the (melo-)dramatic scenes. On the identical time, they appear to emphasize the form of ethical fall which can or might not occur with the character of Zushio.

In conclusion, “Sansho the Bailiff” is a superb work of Japanese cinema, telling a narrative about human beliefs and whether or not we’re in a position to reside by them. Because of its performances and visuals, Kenji Mizoguchi’s function is a real achievement and deserves to be within the realms of world cinema.

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