Kenji Mizoguchi, the most internationally celebrated filmmaker from Japan along with Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, attained the pinnacle of his career as an auteur with three back-to-back masterpieces, viz. The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, and what most consider his greatest achievement, Sansho the Bailiff. The movie is set in 11th century feudal Japan, when, as the opening credits suggest, human being had yet to imbibe humanity. Tamaki, the wife of a former Governor who has been banished on account of taking the side of his subjects instead of that of his superior, is on her way with her two kids – Zushio and Anju – to meet him, through the woods when they get kidnapped. The kids are turned into slaves for the ruthless eponymous bailiff, while, as they later found out, their mother has been thrown into a brothel. The somber, melancholic and leisurely paced film provides with the chronicle of the siblings, their harsh growing up in the concentration camp, and their tragic attempts at reuniting with their devastated past. The film’s key themes of standing for one’s integrity and convictions, love for fellow beings, forced separation, slavery, tyranny, sacrifice, coming of age, and coming to terms with one’s shattered existence, were imbued with dollops of humanism and observations on the tragic and unfair nature of life. However, that said, Mizoguchi never made the tale appear overtly sentimental or titillating, despite having every reason and chance for doing so; consequently, it managed to be layered, subtle, and understated. The exquisite cinematography and lilting soundtrack played vital roles in accentuating its contemplating nature and emotional impact.
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Genre: Drama/Period Film