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Archive for April 10th, 2012

Sansho The Bailiff (1954)

The story begins in 11th-century Japan with an aristocratic woman Tamaki travelling through the woods with her daughter Anju, son Zushio, and maid. Through flashbacks, we learn that her husband, Taira no Masauji, was a local governor who was exiled because of his honesty, integrity and wanted rights for the local peasants. Before he leaves, he gives his son an amulet of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, and tells him, “Without mercy, man is like a beast. Men are created equal, everyone is entitled to happiness.” On their journey to reunite with their husband/father, they are ambushed by kidnappers. The mother is sold as a prostitute and shipped off to an island and the two children given as slaves to the corrupt bailiff Sansho. Sansho’s son Taro is more compassionate than his father and urges the children to wait until they reach adulthood before going to look for their family. If they were captured whilst escaping, they’d be branded on the forehead. As adults, Zushio and his sister Anju continue to toil as servants for Sansho. Anju learns that her mother has become a prostitute on the remote island of Sado. Though Zushio becomes Sansho’s most trusted and most brutal aide; he manages to escape at Anju’s behest. He finds sanctuary at a local monastery while Anju, looking to avoid the inevitably violent retribution, drowns herself in a lake. Seeking justice, Zushio petitions a high ranking Minister who knew his father, a desperate act that usually results in imprisonment or death. Yet his pleas prove more successful than he ever dreamed when he is appointed Governor. When he finally has the power to thwart evil Sansho and reunify his family, he learns that he is tragically too late.

If ever there was a movie that deserved to be called a masterpiece it is this one. It has an amazing story to it and it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen…..period. Yes, I’ve seen a hell of a lot of wonderful Japanese movies in my life and some are them are truly magnificent but only a few can be called timeless and a true classic. Kenji Mizoguchi was on a bit of a hot streak as director during the early to mid 50’s as he directed 4 excellent movies in a row (Life of Oharu, Tale of Ugetsu, A Geisha and this one – Sansho The Bailiff). He is quite rightly tagged as one of the most important filmmakers that’s ever lived who left a remarkable legacy and his devastating portraits of human suffering not just in this movie but others as well is well known. This movie is so utterly gripping, poetic, sorrowful and tragic. You’re not just watching it but feeling and experiencing it as though you’re there with the characters. You can’t help but be moved by the tearjerking finale as Zushio is at long last reunited with his mother. A shadow of the person he knew as a child. Now bedraggled and blind. It’s such a brilliant ending to such a powerful movie and you feel a smile coming across your face at the joy of their reunion.

Excellent acting from the entire cast, superb directing and cinematography and to be honest, it’s more or less what you call a perfect movie. If you call yourself an Asian movie fan then you have to see this poignant movie. Simply stunning.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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