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Sansho the Bailiff

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Nice summary, Alan--this is one of my all-time favorite films, so I'm delighted that you had the opportunity to see it!

spoilers1.gif

As far as Anju's death is concerned, it is indeed a very shocking and tragic (and yet undeniably beautiful) moment in the film. She would have been tortured or killed if she had been recaptured, so she occasioned her own death ritualistically moments before she would have been severely punished. So many of Mizoguchi's films deal with the sacrifice and spiritual strength of Japanese women. I'm reminded of Robin Wood's excellent description in an article he wrote for Film Comment in the '70s:

"The water into which Anju disappears links her with her mother: Tamaki is consistently associated with water, from the early image in the film of her scooping it from the stream to drink (which inaugerates one of the flashbacks showing her unity with her husband) to the final reunion with Zushio by the sea. The image, inevitably, recalls the scene of the kidnapping (the dispersal of the family), but it also, less obviously, anticipates the scene of Zushio's visit (his escape successful) to the father's grave in Tsukushi, shot against a background of distant water. Our sense of interconnectedness is intensified by Mizoguchi's use of Tamaki's song ("Zushio, Anju, I long for you . . . ") on the soundtrack as fitting accompaniment to the girl's suicide, half-ironic, profoundly poignant. The last shot of the scene sums up its emotional ambivalence, that characteristic fusion of the tragic and affirmative: the water has closed over the girl's head, but the ripples are still widening across the surface, Anju's sacrifice is both an end and a beginning."

Later, Wood points out one of my favorite aspects of this film, which is its depiction of violence and its restitution or restoration--this isn't a film that provides the audience a cathartic "revenge scene" that would rellish in Sansho's demise. And thus, Mizoguchi has the artistic integrity to live up to his film's own theme:

"One may comment here in passing on the consistent purity of Mizoguchi's treatment of violence on the screen, which avoids the opposite piutfalls of sadism and softening. The horror of the brandings is by no means diminished by the fact that in both cases they are just off screen. The scene in which the brothel-keepers cut Tamaki's achilles tendon to prevent further attempts at escape is especially reticent visually (the act concealed behind trelliswork), yet extraordinarily powerful; like the other women present, we want to avert our gaze, despite the fact that nothing horrible is shown on screen. But the crucial point here is the treatment of Sansho's downfall. Mizoguchi refuses to indulge any vindictive desire we might feel to watch this monster meet a violent, messy death. He is simply denounced, bound, and sent into exile."

My friend Acquarello has also written some comments, here.

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Saw it tonight; blogged it.

Incidentally, I just discovered tonight that the woman who plays Anju in this 1954 film also played Ichiro's wife -- the woman who sits on the park bench with her second husband -- in After Life (1998).

*** SPOILERS ***

Alan Thomas wrote:

: Anju's death was quite a shock to me. Did she feel she had nothing to look forward to but torture, and

: believed her mother to be dead? Did she assume her brother would not survive?

I don't know what the subtitles on your videotape said (it doesn't appear to be available on DVD, at least not in this region), but on the big screen, the song sung by Anju's mother says "LIFE is torture"; perhaps she was responding to the life she had already lived, as much as the life she knew she could anticipate. And as she tells that other woman, you can't get secrets from a dead woman; she was protecting her brother, or at least, that's how she explained what she was about to do.

Robin Wood wrote:

: But the crucial point here is the treatment of Sansho's downfall. Mizoguchi refuses to indulge any

: vindictive desire we might feel to watch this monster meet a violent, messy death. He is simply

: denounced, bound, and sent into exile.

Hmmm. It never occurred to me, not once, that Sansho deserved death, per se. But I did get a vindictive kick out of seeing him HUMILIATED -- which, I imagine, might be a worse fate in an honour-bound society like Japan.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: Sansho's available on DVD?

AFAIK, it isn't, at least not in this region. Assuming Ron means the "fabulous local dvd store" that I think he means, they have it on VHS only.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Static almost 3years, but it can always be resurrected.

Saw it yesterday. You can't say Japan in the 50s wasn't into tragedy.

Like Peter, I thought the Life is torture line very tied to Anju's death and also, I think, a key theme in the film, perhaps more so than the very Western (specifically American) teachings of the father. I had the feeling that while the film may well have thought that these truths were important, they are nonetheless foreign to the culture and will lead in some ways to grief.

Edit: as to DVD, Criterion has it out. Available on Netflix

Edited by Darrel Manson

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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If you have it, what's the point of not watching it?

As I noted, it is classic tragedy - Greek, Shakespeare, lots of dying, lots of grief. I'm sure someone must have done a study of post-war Japanese cinema and related the tragic strain therein to what it meant to be a vanquished nation. If you're in the mood for such a thing, this is up there with Kurosawa.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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If you have it, what's the point of not watching it?

Well, I wasn't trying to make a point. The question is really about displacing other viewing choices, isn't it? It's like your Netflix queue -- just because something's in the queue doesn't mean you'll ever actually get to it. Thanks for the context.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I don't think I'd agree that it's "classic tragedy." Admittedly, I only saw it a few weeks ago, and my opinion is definitely influenced by the DVD commentary of Japanese lit. prof. Jeffrey Angles. Yes, there is "torture," suffering, and "grief," but the definition of tragedy is that the hero is doomed--through his/her own faults and/or fate. No redemption, no grace. Sansho is tough going, but ultimately ends in reconciliation and redemption--though not redemption in a strictly Christian sense, which isn't surprising. Nevertheless, it is moving and inspiring. I'd agree that it earned its place on the Top 100.

The Lessons of Sansho, by Mark Le Fanu.

Edited by BethR

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Just watched this for the first time—it's my first Mizoguchi, actually—and wow was that ever depressing. Really interesting cinematography and beautiful as a tragedy, but not particularly uplifting when "life is torture" is a common refrain. Surprised to discover that this wasn't nominated for our Top 25 Films on Mercy list, as the necessity of mercy is the film's overtly stated theme.

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