This sweeping historical tragedy about two children separated from their parents and sold into slavery continued a run of late masterpieces from Kenji Mizoguchi.
“Mizuguchi was the master of the heroically sustained long take. Sansho the Bailiff is one of those ﬁlms for whose sake the cinema exists.”
Gilbert Adair, Flickers: An Illustrated Celebration of 100 Years of Cinema, 1995
Riding a crest of international recognition for Japanese cinema, initiated by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), Kenji Mizoguchi’s late period of creativity for the Daiei studio interspersed modern-day dramas with several widely acclaimed period dramas (jidai-geki).
Sansho Dayu is set in Japan’s distant past and is the heartbreaking story of a brother and sister, the children of a noble governor, who are kidnapped and sold as slaves to the cruel bailiff Sansho (Eitaro Shindo). Years pass, and the divided mother and children grow desperate, then resigned.
Mizoguchi relays this tragedy – based on a novel by Ogai Mori with its basis in myth – with classical force. Filming in his signature long, flowing takes, the director builds inexorably to an emotionally devastatingly climax.
Tragic, disenfranchised women often take centre stage in Mizoguchi’s period epics, notably in The Life of Oharu (1952), about a daughter sold into prostitution.