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2,863 Ratings

Sansho the Bailiff

山椒大夫 | Sanshō Dayū

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Japan, 1954


When an idealistic governor disobeys the reigning feudal lord, he is cast into exile. His wife and children, left to fend for themselves, try to join him but are separated. The kids will therefore grow up amid suffering and oppression.

Our take

Among cinephiles, Sansho the Bailiff looms large, and for good reason: Shakespearean in its sweep and unrolling like a dream, Kenji Mizoguchi’s epic tragedy is an unforgettable fable of good, evil, and the world in between. Emotional, spiritual, and provocative, this is one of the masterpieces.

Sansho the Bailiff Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
A masterpiece managed with exquisite patience, the film is slow-moving only in the sense that it doesn’t have to move for anybody; Mizoguchi’s hands and eyes search out every crevice along the eternal landscape, granting his characters clemency, or breaking their legs, based on the roll of an infinite-sided die.
May 05, 2018
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The story is an eventful one full of cruelty and heartache. The film is also stylistically extraordinary. In his 1939 “The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum,” Mizoguchi showed his mastery of the moving camera, using long takes heavily influenced by Japanese scroll painting. In this movie the camera still moves, but with more nuance and subtlety. It’s as if he’s distilled the extreme sophistication of his narrative style down to its most simple components. The results are devastating throughout.
September 05, 2017
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The underlying response of the movie to these complicated ideological impulsions may be interpreted both politically and religiously. Seen from a political point of view, the film seems to expound the purest liberalism. Against tyranny it sets law; against captivity, freedom.
February 27, 2013
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