Sansho the Bailiff



IMDb Rating 8.4 10 12584


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May 25, 2019 at 06:05 AM


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2hr 4 min
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2hr 4 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by allan825 10 / 10

Luminous terms of both substance and style, a cinematic achievement of the very highest order. Like all great works of art, it is incomparable, although it would not be misleading to place it in the company of the very best of Renoir, Ford, and Kurosawa. It has the same kind of compassionate humanism, high-caliber storytelling, and effortless-seeming mastery of the medium...the same generosity.

I prefer this film even to the great (and much better-known) Ugetsu. And I know now why Welles once said that Mizoguchi "can't be praised enough, really." I hope one day this film will be as well known as it deserves to be.

Reviewed by jandesimpson 9 / 10

A master of the medieval tale

Of the three big names in mid-20th century Japanese cinema, Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi, it is Mizoguchi with whom British audiences are possibly the least familiar. Although his output was large, I have still managed to catch up with only four of his works. Initially these have appeared less original than the works of the others; however, a recent further viewing of "Sansho Dayu" has set me on a re-appraisal. All the films of Mizoguchi I have seen have been set in medieval feudal Japan when power was in the hands of very few people who believed the peasant majority to be human rubbish fit only for exploitation. "Sansho Dayu" in particular deals with a dawn of enlightenment in a dark age, brought about by the conscience of a father to be followed years later by his son. The world in which it takes place is as troubled as any imaginable. When the father, a man of some position, is banished because of his sympathy for peasants, his wife and children - a brother and sister - set out to join him but are waylaid by bandits. The mother is shipped to an island community to serve as a prostitute while the children, remaining on the mainland, are sold as slaves to the evil Sansho the Bailiff. The title is misleading as this is essentially the children's story. Growing up in captivity the youth temporarily loses his sense of morality when he realises that he can exist more comfortably as his master's henchman. The rest of the film deals with his redemption, the consequence of which is to make the world just a slightly better place. Although the morality of the story is stated in the most simple of terms, the film wields considerable power. Like Kurosawa, Mizoguchi is an outstanding director of action sequences, so that the waylaying of the family and the attempted escapes from Sansho's compound have a real sense of immediacy - he is a master orchestrator of the tracking shot. He also evokes the most poignant performances from his actresses; in "Sansho" the mother and daughter are the characters we remember, particularly the mother, whose final scene of reconciliation with her son is the stuff of great tragedy. I read one piece of professional criticism that placed this film on the very highest level along with Angelopoulos's "Landscape in the Mist". Although I would not go along with this, the final scene of "Sansho" is only a rung or two below.

Reviewed by davidals 10 / 10

An enormously powerful tale of oppression and resistance

I don't consider SANSHO DAYU to be the best introduction to the great Kenji Mizoguchi, but - after many viewings, I do consider it to be the best of what I've seen.

In the years after WWII, Mizoguchi's interest in period drama deepened - he ultimately was best known outside of Japan for his period dramas (jidaigeki), though his take on the historical film was highly personalized with the introduction of contemporary thematic elements, and this film is the high water mark in that development, with a detailed story exploring oppression, class structures and societal ethics.

Late in life, Mizoguchi's interest in Buddhism also expanded tremendously, which is reflected to a great degree in this film, with various sacrifices, renunciations of privilege, and familial reconciliations figuring prominently in the intricate story - notably so at SANSHO's magnificent ending.

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