Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sansho the Bailiff

Sansho Dayu
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Length: 125 min.
Country: Japan
Format: VHS
Date Viewed: 5 April, 2006

Sansho the Bailiff is another outstanding personal film by Kenji Mizoguchi. His standard theme of the sins of the father being suffered by his wife and children is readily apparent here, as well as his other recurring theme of citizens being consumed and destroyed or driven to apathy by warfare.

The first theme appears time and again in the director's films as he was (understandably) never able to get over the sale of his sister by their father when they were children. Adding this element to his films was not only cathartic, but also an attempt to warn other men not to commit similar unconscionable acts against the family.

The second theme appeared often as a comment on his own anti-war feelings during the Pacific War. By the mid-fifties when Sansho the Bailiff was released, this point was seemingly moot in the wake of Japan's new constitution neutering any militaristic ability and the "awakening" of its citizens from the pro-war hysteria whipped up the country's military leaders during the war, but it was still a necessary and effective theme.

Both themes are masterfully inserted into a script of high tragedy, encapsulating situations that were still largely fresh in the Japanese post-war experience. More importantly, it mirrored most accurately the situations of Japan's Pacific War victims, most notably China and Korea, where the largest numbers of slave laborers and forced-prostitutes came from - a connection most likely unnoticed then and now by the majority of the Japanese audience, but really, audiences anywhere outside of China and Korea. Knowing his strong anti-war sentiment (he even "sabotaged" his own The Loyal 47 Ronin to deny his military backers' satisfaction), it can be guessed that Mizoguchi created Sansho the Bailiff with this connection on purpose.

But the film is all too eerily similar to current wars around the world, especially in the various Africa conflicts, and in the war in Iraq as well, revealing our own continued ignorance or apathy towards the film's timeless message against the horrors of war. There are a handful of world leaders that need to have this film screened for them. You should watch it, too, though, for no other reason than it being an extremely well-made film. Sansho the Bailiff is highly recommended.


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