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Cinema, film, movies....

Started by MisterCat, November 06, 2006, 06:19:49 PM

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This thread is a place where you can discuss feature films.  Given the Japanese origins of the art genre most often seen on our message board, I decided to begin with a look at one of the greatest Japanese films ever produced:  Sanshô Dayû, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and released in 1954.

I've screened this film twice:  once as a requirement for a three-term course titled Film As Literature, which I took at the University of Oregon; and then again, more recently, via a library loan.  Apart from a library system it's difficult to find Sanshô Dayû  in North America; but while it's easily purchased in Europe, all that formats-and-regions corporate malarkey screws things up.

Honestly, Sanshô Dayû is probably the most beautifully-made film I've ever seen.  It grabs your heart and never lets go, so be warned:  If you can find this film, be prepared for an emotional experience in addition to a history lesson.

Click on the image to view it in a larger size.
"Azuma nishiki chuya kurabe: Sansho dayu," by Chikanobu Yoshu; Meiji period, 1869-1912

For details regarding the film, please see Sanshô dayû (1954).  Here, however, are listed the principle cast and crew:


Kyoko Kagawa - Anju
Masao Shimizu - Masauji Taira
Ichiro Sugai - Minister of Justice
Kikue Mori - Priestess
Ken Mitsuda - Prime Minister Morozane Fujiwara
Ryosuke Kagawa - Ritsushi Kumotake
Eitaro Shindo - Sansho
Kinuyo Tanaka - Tamaki
Akitake Kono - Taro
Chieko Naniwa - Ubatake
Yoshiaki Hanayagi - Zushio
Masahiko Tsugawa - Zushio as a Boy


Kenji Mizoguchi - Director
Masaichi Nagata - Producer
Fuji Yahiro - Screenwriter
Yoshikata Yoda - Screenwriter
Ogai Mori - Short Story Author
Kazuo Miyagawa - Cinematographer
Kisaku Ito - Art Director
Mitsuji Miyata - Editor
Fumio Hayasaka - Composer (Music Score)
Kannahichi Odera - Composer (Music Score)
Tamekichi Mochizuki - Composer (Music Score)

Click on the image to view it in a larger size.

Here is a brief description of the film, which doesn't really give much of anything away story-wise: Sansho Dayu [1954]: Video: Kinuyo Tanaka,Yoshiaki Hanayagi,Kenji Mizoguchi,Kyoko Kagawa

Reviews Review
The subjugated plight of women in Japanese society was always a subject close to Mizoguchi's heart--never more so than in Sansho Dayu, one of the towering late masterpieces of his final years. Its intensity, compassion, dramatic sweep and breathtaking formal beauty place it among his greatest films. The story is set in the harsh feudal world of 11th-century Japan. A provincial governor is demoted and exiled for showing too much clemency to those he rules; travelling to join him, his wife is kidnapped and forced to become a courtesan and her children are sold into slavery. They grow up under the harsh regime of the bailiff Sansho while their mother (the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka, in a performance of heartbreaking desolation) yearns hopelessly for them. Working with his favourite cameraman, Kazuo Miyagawa, Mizoguchi films this tragic story in long, intricate takes, rarely resorting to close-ups. The visual elegance and formal restraint of his style make the film all the more emotionally harrowing, and the final scene, on a desolate and windswept island, must be one of the most unbearably moving endings in all cinema. --Philip Kemp


Here is a more lengthy description which includes many spoilers:

Compare Prices and Read Reviews on Sansho the Bailiff at ID:  metalluk
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Sanshô Dayû (1954), known as Sanshô the Baliff in English, is a beloved Japanese period drama about the journey of life and the journey of a man, Zushiô, over earth and water, in search of his loved ones. It is the story of family love and the sacrifice of a courageous woman, Anju, to ensure that at least part of her family would have an opportunity to be reunited. Be warned that this film is a tear-jerker of the first magnitude.

Historical Background: Although Akira Kurosawa is undoubtedly the Japanese director best known to Western audiences, the mantle of most beloved director in Japan itself may very well belong instead to Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956). He made his first film at the age of 24 in 1922 and went on to make a total of 86 despite dying of leukemia at the relatively young age of 58. Eighty-six films in 34 years is an average of 2.5 per career year. Outside of Japan, Mizoguchi is best known for three films from the 1950ââ,¬â,,¢s, Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953), and Sanshô Dayû (1954), during which time he was making films designed to be more accessible for Western audiences while retaining the fundamentally Japanese character of his works.

Kenji Mizoguchi early in his career

Mizoguchi was born the son of a poor carpenter. His mother died when he was still a teen and his sister was sold as a geisha. It is probably because of these loses of the principal females in his early life that Mizoguchi developed a strong empathy for women and propounded feminist ideals. Most of his films center on female characters -- usually having to bear monumental sufferings but emerging with their spirit intact. Sanshô Dayû is one exception, centering most especially on the male protagonist, Zushiô, but nevertheless featuring two women in fundamentally important roles -- his mother and his sister.

Location (in red) of Tango Province

The Story: The beloved Governor of the Tango Province district of Japan is a man of courage, principle, and compassion. He has defied an order from the military command to supply additional men for conscription because there are already too few hands to tend the fields and the populace is at risk of starvation if more men are sent. For disobeying the order from his superior, the Governor is removed from his position and sent into exile in a remote province. He must leave behind his wife, Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka), son Zushiô (Masahiko Kato), and daughter Anju (Keiko Enami). He leaves his son with a family heirloom, a statue of the Goddess of Mercy, and three pieces of wisdom that he wants his son to incorporate. Zushiô repeats these lessons to ensure that he has learned them.

Without mercy, a man is not a human being.

Be hard on yourself but merciful to others.

Men are created equal. Everyone is entitled to happiness.

Tamaki, Zushiô, and Anju and the childrenââ,¬â,,¢s old nurse must undertake a dangerous journey to the province where the father now lives. They soon find themselves passing through a region where slave traders and bandits abound and residents have been forbidden to take in travelers. They decide to make a shelter in a great cotton grass field for the night. Zushiô and Anju gather branches and reeds together. While tugging together on one branch it snaps and the two break into laughter as they fall to the ground. A seemingly kindly woman who lives locally discovers their campsite and invites them to stay with her. She feeds them and urges them to travel by boat in the morning because the roads are too dangerous. In the morning, it turns out that the woman has betrayed them to slave traders. Tamaki and her children are separated. She will be sent to Sado Island and sold into prostitution. The children are sold to a local slave owner, Sanshô Dayû (Eitarô Shindô). They have been reduced from their noble birth to a subhuman status.

Tamaki and her children are captured by slave traders.

The boat ride into slavery

Tamaki, forced into prostitution

In captivity on Sado Island, Tamaki looks over the sea toward the mainland and her husband and children.

Zushiô and Anju have trouble adjusting initially to the hard work and cruel treatment but provide much needed support for one another. They also get some much needed moral encouragement from Taro, the adult son of Sanshô, but a decent man who rejects his fatherââ,¬â,,¢s inhumanity. They get encouragement, as well, from Namiji (Noriko Tachibana), a slave woman, who becomes their surrogate mother. When she tries to escape because "they reminded me of my own children back home," she is branded on the forehead with a hot iron.

Ten years pass and Zushiô (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) and Anju (Kyôko Kagawa) have grown into adulthood. He is twenty-three and she eighteen. Zushiô has forgotten the teachings of his father and, instead, curries Sanshôââ,¬â,,¢s favor by aiding in the disciplining of the other slaves. When an old man attempts to escape, it is Zushiô who brands him. When Namiji grows deathly ill, Sanshô orders that she be dumped in the forest to die. The task of delivering her there falls to Zushiô and Anju and a guard. Namiji is set down on the forest floor. Anju provides her with a wire to hold onto, the other end of which is attached to a statue of Buddha -- a kind of umbilical cord to the afterlife. Zushiô and Anju are given permission to construct a canopy to protect Namiji from rain.

While cutting reeds and branches, Zushiô and Anju and fall to the ground just as they had years earlier during the last night with their mother. This chance flashback reawakens Zushiôââ,¬â,,¢s memories of his mother and his fatherââ,¬â,,¢s words of wisdom. Zushiô suggests that they attempt an escape, but Anju points out that two of them together would have little change of escape. She advises him to head for the monastery. She will stay behind to deceive the guard and delay pursuit. Anju tells the guard that Zushiô will follow shortly and suggests they return to the manor. She knows that she will be tortured and under torture be unable to withhold the truth. She walks calmly and majestically into the nearby lake and drowns herself. Ripples gently spread from where she went under.

Zushiô reaches the monastery where Taro now lives, having realized that he [Taro] could not follow in his fatherââ,¬â,,¢s footsteps. Taro hides him from the pursuers and provides him with a letter of petition to the Prime Minister. Ignored by the Prime Minister initially, Zushiô gains access when the Prime Minister recognizes the Goddess of Mercy heirloom as the one given by one of his own ancestors to Zushiôââ,¬â,,¢s father. Zushiôââ,¬â,,¢s father has since become something of a legendary hero for his adherence to principle. Unfortunately, his father had died less than a year ago. The Prime Minister elevates Zushiô to his rightful social status and appoints him as the new Governor of Tango Province.

Zushiô petitions the Prime Minister.

Zushiô returns in triumph to free the slaves.

Zushiô immediately decrees that the sale or trade in human beings is outlawed in all of Tango Province. He knows that this exceeds his authority (he only has jurisdiction over government lands, not private manors), but he will have time to enforce his decree before resigning. He has Sanshô and all of his family arrested and exiled, freeing his former fellow slaves. He is heartbroken to discover, however, the sacrifice made by Anju.

Zushiô will now seek out the only other member of his family who may be living -- his mother. He travels to Sado Island -- not as a Governor but as an ordinary man. He is told that she is believed to have died in a tidal wave. He goes down to the sea and finds an old man harvesting seaweed. He recalls the tidal wave that killed most who were on the beach, but Zushiô hears the song of longing that his mother sings, yearning for Zushiô and Anju. She has grown very old and is broken and blind. He greets her but she has been fooled before by others and wonââ,¬â,,¢t believe him. He hands her the Goddess of Mercy heirloom which she caresses to discover its identity and his. They embrace and, after a few moments, the camera pans to the seaweed harvester at work and then to the everlasting sea.

Themes: The style of Sanshô the Baliff is distinctly Japanese. Like other Asian cultures, Japanese philosophy emphasizes the circular and continuous nature of life more than the linear construct of Western philosophy and literature that features beginnings and endings. Sanshô establishes this theme during the opening credits, which are superimposed over ancient stones barely rising above the surface of the earth, which in Japanese tradition symbolize memories, traditions, ancestors, and the continuity of life and time. The story to be told is identified as follows: "The origin of this legend of Sanshô Dayû, the Baliff, goes back to medieval times when Japan had not yet emerged from the Dark Ages and mankind had yet to awaken as human beings." It is set in what Westerners call the eleventh century A.D. Later in the film, the ancient stones reappear to introduce a skip ahead in time of ten years. The story is introduced in a way that suggests picking up on a narrative already in progress. Later, the film ends by cutting from the central characters to an unrelated man harvesting seaweed and then to an image of the eternal sea. Continuity is also seen in Zushiô ultimately becoming the quality of man that his father had been. When characters important to the story die, they seem to melt into the environment. Anjuââ,¬â,,¢s death scene is especially remarkable in that respect. She walks serenely and gracefully into the lake, disappears masked by the mist, and we are left to ponder the ever widening ripples on the lake which demonstrate the continuity of her influence on the world she once inhabited. Water, in oriental philosophies, is symbolic of the continuity of existence in the way of cycles through the atmosphere, streams, and the seas.

Kenji Mizoghuchi

Another related pair of core themes of Sanshô the Baliff are the importance of compassion and the moral imperative against slavery . The father of Zushiô and Anju teaches that "Without mercy, a man is not a human being." As we are told at the very beginning, this is the story of the awakening of human beings and the emergence from the Dark Ages in which slavery was standard practice. Sanshô the Baliff emphasizes that it is sometimes necessary to adhere to moral principals rather than the letter of the law when fundamental injustices are codified in law.

Production Values: One of the distinctive techniques of Mizoguchi as a director is an emphasis on diagonal composition. Many frames have lines that stretch across the diagonal rather than mainly horizontally or vertically. Mizoguchi also avoids framing in the manner of much of French cinema, preferring to create the sense of the scene extending in all directions, left, right, backward, and forward, from what is seen. This reinforces the Japanese emphasis on spacial and temporal continuity. The movements of characters likewise often proceed on the diagonal of the picture.

Director Kenji Mizoguchi (seated) and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa (right)

Mizoguchi was also a master of camera movement. He featured extended shots, which can often only be accomplished effectively through fluid camera movement. Mizogushi used a lot of crane shots to provide aerial perspectives. Most of the shots in Mizogushi films are from a distance rather than close up. This contributes to distanciation which is in keeping with the oriental view of detachment.

Another favorite tactic of Mizoguchi was rhyming -- parallels between events in two or more different segments of the story. One example occurs at the nadir of Zushiôââ,¬â,,¢s progression as an individual, when he brands, at the instruction of Sanshô, an old man who attempted to escape. The next scene shows Zushiôââ,¬â,,¢s mother, Tamaki, having her Achilles tendon severed as punishment for attempting to escape from Sado Island. Rhyming mutilations. In each of these painful scenes, Mizoguchi demonstrates his artistry and sensitivity by having the camera focus not on the mutilations but the horror of the respective observers. Sometimes violence is more effectively depicted artistically than graphically.


Click on the image to view it in a larger size.
Tamaki, in captivity on Sado Island and now crippled, looks across the sea toward her far-away husband and children.




Whoo-boy..... -v-'

Um,.. you realize, Mr. Cat-san, that this is gonna take quite a while to disseminate....  -v-;
Quick replies may not be immediately forthcoming.  ^^;


Thank you for your reply, C-Chan!  Indeed, I expect few replies.


However, that film is worth the effort it took to throw together my post.  I just hope it doesn't scare too many people away!




yeah..... Im not gonna read all that.  Tho I will look for the film.

I dont tend to watch to many original japanese films. find they confuse me quite a bit.  Least the ones Ive seen.   For instance... I like Jin-Ron, so I picked up the red specticals and stray dog... and to this day im still not sure what happened. I think I blanked it out of my memory for a reason.  Its just too painful....

tho i think it has something to do with my nightmares involving martini siping white faced gangsters and a fear of eating ramen.
"YOU IDIOT!!" -Kasen Ibara

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I don't blame you for not wanting to wade through that whole post, Captain.  It is a mega-post after all, sort of a big granite block sitting in the middle of the forum.


So, you too experience Fear Of Ramen (FOR) eh?  I'm usually afflicted with FOR toward the end of every month; and to think, I used to really like ramen ââ,¬â€ but that was back in remotest antiquity, when I was living on Okinawa and could eat real ramen rather than this grocery-store crap.




Back in washington there are several asian markets that I buy from that I can get good products from... (like mochi!)  Thats where i get the soba noodles for my yakisoba (as well as the hard to come by sauce) (zomg! sauce plz!) tho I have a heretical friend that actually uses top ramen for his yakisoba.  and he puts velveta in it.   I could murder him sometimes.

But no, I still enjoy ramen sometimes.. but I was refering to the red specticals.. how the main character, a soldier that flead the country returns to japan and keeps visiting stand and eat ramen places where he keeps getting druged and captured.  its a very...... odd film.  its the same "world" as Stray dog and Jin-Ron but its far more comedical.  well stray dog was pretty bad too... up untill the totaly awasome but cheesy battle scean at the end where the soldier dons his armor and battles all these white faced gangsters.

I had planned on digging up a few pics to link to in here through google, but AOL hates me right now and shes kicking me reapeadedly in the junk.


"YOU IDIOT!!" -Kasen Ibara

Commisions Available - Send PM for details.