Sanshô dayû (1954)

by guest writer

Sanshô dayû (Sansho the Bailiff) is another example of Kenji Mizoguchi’s extraordinary ability to intensify the staging of action, being a living proof of his extended knowledge of all psychological aspects related to his characters. The director’s subtly handled art goes beyond developing a certain precision into a style implying the main theme of the movie, the desire to achieve spiritual unity vs. the existing physical separation. You will notice throughout the movie the characters’ aspiration towards family unification. The techniques employed by Mizoguchi, as the deep focus shots combined with the usual long shots, create an effect of distance from the action, while emphasizing its reality.

Two children, Zushio and Anju, are taken away from their natural mother and forced into slavery by the eponymous Sansho, The Steward. Zushio, the film’s hero, is filled up with feelings of revenge and is able to submit to evil in order to receive noble status that will allow him to conclude his affairs with a world that has treated his family badly. As it happens with few cinematic treasures, Sanshô dayû becomes unforgettable on the beautiful lyrics of the song that stands at the center of the movie.

photo: still from the film, production credits

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