Sansho the Bailiff ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Mizoguchi continues to astound me each time I see one of his works, and feels more and more of John Ford in many ways, though his happiest moments come from the bleakest despair (did he do a comedy ever?). Here he's a little less formally rigorous than in something like Chrysanthemums and it makes all the difference: we need to see these people's faces and their reactions to each other; we have to look into their eyes. This is a film about people looking at each other and recognizing that they too are human and have self worth. But few ever do - Taro tells Zushio that people rarely care for others it does not affect them, and he only finds his lucky break due to statue. The symmetries—the maid's death and Anju's, the breaking of the branch, the acts of burning the forehead - all speak volumes about how and why one might have empathy. Not much to say past what Jim Emerson writes here (seriously—read this), but didn't find anyone to comment on what I think is the most heartbreaking scene. Zushio frees the slaves, and what do they do? Destroy the home in a drunken fury, which he observes as the fire rages. Even those you teach the way of mercy rarely hear it. Also should note my one small issue: Structurally, I needed more of Zushio's change back from cruelty. We move 10 years in the future to see him become just as awful as Sansho, and I feel while the repetition of the branch is a beautiful moment, we don't get enough of him as a cruel man to have this register as strongly as I wanted it to. But minor issue for what is really one of the major directors.

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