386 Sansho the Bailiff

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Michael Kerpan
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#126 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue May 22, 2007 4:13 pm

The only US distributor for "Crucified Lovers" listed in IMDB is New Line Cinema.

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#127 Post by david hare » Wed May 23, 2007 3:14 am

The exploitedcinema price is very steep but its service has always been reliable. I will probably hold off but I really would love to see all the 50s Mizoguchis before the Lists Project deadline. I just have a feeling that Life of Oharu would rank very high on my 50s list especially after reading how great it is from you, davidhare and Lino.
Michael sorry not to reply sooner - Unless you find it on sale I would hold off on the AE OHaru- the print is quite weak and damaged. But so was the earlier British VHS. I can't believe there aren't better elements out there - even the French disc in the two year old Coffret is taken from a worn source.

But how can you not have NOW a movie that effectively opens with the aged, painted face of destitute Kinuyo Tanaka taking refuge in a Shrine, and then gazing on a Buddha which Mizo dissolves to the image of her first love, Toshiro Mifune, cutting back to Kinuyo giggling with the pleasure of remembered passion. It's sublime.

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#128 Post by Lino » Wed May 23, 2007 7:41 am

Seconded. Oharu was my first Mizoguchi and still is my favorite. There is something in that movie that totally transcends the celluloid it lives in.

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#129 Post by Michael » Thu May 24, 2007 1:33 pm

Sansho is not a ghost story in the same sense as Ugetsu but watching it last night, it felt like one. It's that quality I love about those films and Mizoguchi. That eerie, otherworldly feeling ghosts keep reliving through generations and generations. Do other Mizoguchi films have that same quality?

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#130 Post by FilmFanSea » Sat May 26, 2007 9:25 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:My criticisms of Sansho (such as they are) have nothing to do with this. Rather I find fault with some major story lapses (not highly important), a seriously weak performance by Yoshiaki Hanayagi (a major -- but hardly crippling problem) and the almost totally generic nature of Tanaka's part (the same problem as one finds in "Ugetsu"). Any problems with Sansho are, nonetheless, minor compared to its overall level of beauty.
If IMDb can be trusted in this instance, it appears that Sanshô dayû was Hanayagi's first film, and he made only five films in a 13-year career. Personally his uneven, occasionally histrionic performance really marred my enjoyment of the film (this was my first viewing). Moreover, I had a hard time identifying with--or even liking--his character, who is so central to the film.
SpoilerShow
His behavior as he tries to petition the Prime Minister just looked cowardly (it looked like a bad Mifune impersonation, with the difference that Mifune would've come away looking bold and heroic, not collapsing in tears the way Zushio does when he is thrown in jail). The final reunion should have prompted tears from me, but left me strangely cold, and I blame that on Hanayagi's unsubtle performance.

Also: During the escape, why does Anju say that she should not accompany Zushio because the two of them would be caught too easily, but then asks her brother to carry the gravely ill woman on his back? I realize Mizoguchi wanted to emphasize Anju's noble sacrifice for her brother and her love for her dying friend, but the logic struck me as absurd.
Don't get me wrong: I like the film very much, but with different casting I suspect it would've been a more powerful experience for me.

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#131 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun May 27, 2007 12:21 am

> If IMDb can be trusted in this instance, it appears that Sanshô dayû
> was Hanayagi's first film, and he made only five films in a 13-year career.

IMDB _can't_ be trusted on things like this. I checked the JMDB -- and he had a few more films, albeit only 8 in all -- his first being "Story of Late Chrysanthemums" in 1939. His last being Shinoda's "Clouds at Sunset" (1967). I would guess he was primarily a stage performer.

It is quite possible that his performance in "Sansho" was in full compliance with Mizoguchi's design. If so, Mizoguchi seriously misconceived the part.

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#132 Post by FilmFanSea » Sun May 27, 2007 1:16 am

I watched the film again this evening with the commentary (which I found to be excellent--Jeffrey Angles has an effortless delivery and lots of interesting things to say), and then watched all of the supplements.

The AD on the film, Tokuzo Tanaka, says Hanayagi was mainly a Shimpa stage actor when he was hired for the film. The scene in which he petitions the official (which I described earlier as "histrionic") was actually his first one shot for the film, and Mizoguchi had him doing retakes from dawn till dusk, suggesting that the director was having trouble getting Hanayagi to tone down his broad stage acting for the camera.

It's also revealed that Mizoguchi's original focus for the film was on the slave trade, but he eventually bowed to pressure from the producers to play up the Zushio/Anju story. It may be that Hanayagi was cast for a role that was not planned to be central to the story; with the change in focus, Mizoguchi was stuck with the actor's excesses in the cutting room.

Still ... to have only eight films on his resumé after starring in a critically acclaimed film is curious. Perhaps Hanayagi was devoted to Shimpa and turned down higher profile acting jobs for the screen. Or maybe he was unable to parlay this role into a film career because other directors found his style to be too rooted in the stage.

Another superb Criterion package.

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#133 Post by david hare » Sun May 27, 2007 1:35 am

For all the problems his acting style creates during the narrative progression, I really do think the extremely high pitched emotionalism of the final scene with the mother is the payoff. The abandonment of any emotional or physical restraint is what makes the secene so staggeringly moving.

In impact I can only compare it to the final scenes in Gueule d'Amour, after Gabin has killed Mireille Balin and comes to Rene for help. Gabin's performance - his range and shifts in tonality, vocalisations, physicality are one of the most profoundly wonderful things in cinema. But Gabin was as the peak of an amazing movie career. Certainly Hanyagi is simply not in this league of film acting. Nevertheless...

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#134 Post by lord_clyde » Mon May 28, 2007 7:21 am

I was silmilarly bothered with his performance in those scenes, especially
SpoilerShow
when he begs them not to return him to slavery, and helpfully mentions who his slave master is all in on sentence. IDIOT
But the overwhelming emotional intensity of the rest of the film, as well as some staggeringly beautiful moments
SpoilerShow
(such as Anju's suicide)

outweighed this small flaw and I consider this to be one of the most important film experiences of my life (having also come away from Ugetsu comewhat cold).

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#135 Post by Michael » Mon May 28, 2007 9:55 am

I wasn't bothered by the guy's acting. Now having seen both Ugetsu and Sansho, I noticed that the guys in both films seemed to be just blah and silly and the only thing that came out real and humane was the women. I think it was intended. Even though Anju's brother was kidnapped and sold into slavery, he managed to find a way to become a "governor" (with a hidden agenda of course) but if he was a woman, none of that could happen. Anju could never be where her brother got to. Sansho's women are amazingly humane - the mother, Anju, the woman who tries helping Anju to escape, etc and I think Mizoguchi intends to prevent us from feeling the same way toward Anju's brother till that brilliant finale when everything hits in davidhare's words "the extremely high pitched emotionalism".

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#136 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon May 28, 2007 10:23 am

You have to look hard to find men to admire in Mizoguchi's film output. Part of the problem is that traditional Japanese literature and drama had the notion of both weak heroes and strong heroes -- and the former were considered to be romantic, This goes back at least as far as "Tale of the Genji".

I would argue that Mori in "Ugetsu" does an especially fine job at presenting this sort of "weak" hero -- while Hanayagi is fairly poor in "Sansho". I think to fully appreciate Mizoguchi, one has to become accustomed to this very un-western type of hero -- and learn how to appraise the performers who undertake this sort of role. I think "Utamaro" (which I think is a wonderful film) is sometimes not appreciated because Utamaro (well played by Minosuke Bandô) is basically this sort of weak hero -- and he is at the center of the film.

My favorite Mizoguchi hero is (by far) Musashi Miyamoto (a "strong" hero -- albeit a rather atypical one) -- a film that, alas, seems to have gotten overlooked.

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#137 Post by Sloper » Tue Jun 05, 2007 9:19 am

Just read Ogai Mori's version of the Sansho story - did anyone else notice that Sansho's three sons are called Taro, Jiro and Saburo? Like the three sons in Ran - and like in Ran, Taro is the oldest, Saburo the youngest.

Another interesting parallel is that, in the story, Saburo is the only one who really resembles his father in cruelty, while Taro and Jiro sort of go against their father's principles. (Though I guess in Ran, the evil kids have turned out that way because of Hidetora's ruthless way of life...)

Is this little echo well known already?

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#138 Post by Kenji » Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:38 pm

For me, and pardon the superlatives, this is the peak not only of Mizoguchi's career but all of cinema; for its unsurpassed mix of involving plot, compassionate and humane values, deep emotional power and exquisite beauty, shot with the usual mastery of camerawork and painterly composition, and culminating in a poignant ending which transports us beyond its narrative boundaries to a wider universe. And nothing in cinema can match the single moment which, avoiding need for spoilers, i'll call Anju's ripples. Lovely Kyoko Kagawa stole my heart.

The fight against tyranny, the search for family after harrowing separation, (the film aches with longing), a rare feeling for nature, haunting use of sound, and an almost Buddhist sense of the sublime- it touches big issues with refinement rather than manipulation or hysteria. It's a million miles from Hollywood and the shallow. self-indulgent trash that's taken for art these days. If there's one film, one art work to carry with me, it's Sansho. There, i'd better just go and relieve myself.

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#139 Post by Mr Sheldrake » Mon Jun 25, 2007 4:30 pm

I saw Sansho for the first time in its original NYC release around 69-70. It was one of the great emotional experiences of my movie going life. I recall not wanting to leave the theater, as is the case when you see a great film or great theater in NYC, you then have to reemerge into the real world, the noise, overcrowding, the ugliness etc. The feeling can disappear quickly, but not that day as I struggled to find my subway entrance.

I hadn't seen it again, wary of there being no chance of duplicating the feeling, plus I'm far less romantic in my old age. But the recent DVD blew me away, the reunion ending, worthy of Shakespeare, retained its magnificent power.

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#140 Post by Greathinker » Sun Jul 22, 2007 9:25 pm

Saw this last night, my first Mizoguchi. How am I missing all this criticism towards Hanayagi/Zushio? His performance created the film's emotional corner stones, in my opinion. Particularly the scene where he's releasing the slaves, it's as if he sees himself among the crowds as he joyfully issues his decrees-- you get a hint of the length of time he spent there. A strangely ironic scene too; easily he becomes a slave and easily he becomes a govenor, getting to change the rules now that he's slipped into a funny outfit with a big hat; you get a sense that he's reveling in all of this nonetheless.

Also the scene where he's going fucking nuts to the prime minister-- and how the latter walks away without the slightest acknowledgment, then finds the familiar family heirloom and just seems to say: oh he's part of the aristocracy, let him in. The point being that zushio's performance allows you to witness this immense apathy shown towards the common man.

The film itself has been well represented here I think. As others have said one of the things I liked most is its distant, stoic quality, aided by the historical setup--yet Mizoguchi zooms in, in a matter of speaking, to see the characters within all of it. Certainly an interesting director; I'll have to see Ugetsu next.

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#141 Post by Stefan Andersson » Fri Dec 07, 2007 7:22 am

Why wasn´t the laserdisc commentary reused for the DVD? I remember it as extremely enlightening right from the opening image of the stone, which was very well explained. Without the commentary, that one would have demanded a lot of research to figure out.

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#142 Post by YazoR » Thu Jan 08, 2009 9:54 pm

This is a technical question about the DVD release. I noticed an anomaly that takes place right in the middle of the second branding scene, at exactly 44:04. The picture suddenly turns black for just under second and then returns back to normal. The sound is still present during the blackout, and the film neither skips nor freezes.

Please, I like to know if this is present in all copies, or if I have a defective disc. I doubt that part was a damaged, or missing frame, considering how well preserved the rest of the film is. I also tried the disc on other dvd players and received the same result.

Coincidentally, the other criterion purchase I made with this one also contains several anomalies, although they are sound related. I'll post that observation on the 437: "Vampyr" thread.

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#143 Post by manicsounds » Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:26 am

It's a few missing frames

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#144 Post by Fan-of-Kurosawa » Mon Jan 12, 2009 5:34 am

Yes, don' t worry. There is the same "problem" on my disc also.

But let me point out that I also have the MoC disc and on that one there are no missing frames. So it seems that Criterion and MoC used different masters or elements.

But anyway, as I said, don't worry, there is nothing wrong with your copy.

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#145 Post by nostalghic » Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:35 am

Can anyone shed some light on my cold response to Sansho?

I watched this about two weeks ago. Thought it was great. The production design and general framing were two things I was hoping to be impressed by, and thankfully they were fantastic. Despite all its golden qualities by the end of the film (when the mother and son are reunited on the beach) I was so uninvolved in any of the emotion. I thought to myself damn this was a sad movie, but I am not sad, at all. When I watched Ugetsu's final scene the first time quite some time ago (won't mention in case of spoiler but I'd say everyone knows which one) I was really, really moved. I had the scene playing in my head for days after- both because it was so artfully put together and because I had such a serious emotional response to it.

So I can't get why one really got to me and the other didn't. I still think fondly of Sansho, especially the actual character of Sansho whose attire was outstanding. I just think I'm missing something, especially when people start saying it's Mizoguchi's best, because it felt like such a mere fraction in comparison to Ugetsu. Perhaps someone's emotional response to a movie is something too personal for internet discussion. Maybe not, let me know what you think.

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#146 Post by Matango » Mon Jan 12, 2009 10:02 pm

Did you watch Ugetsu with expectations? I find expectation to be heavy baggage to take to a film; it usually ends in disappointment. I think almost every film that has impressed me has been a pleasant surprise rather than affirmation of some kind of pre-approval or hopeful anticipation.

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#147 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jan 12, 2009 10:22 pm

Nostalghic --

I have a somewhat similar response to Sansho -- yet love quite a few other Mizoguchi films. To my mind, nothing is better than Crucified Lovers.

The central character in Sansho is the son -- and I don't much care for his performance. I attribute some of the coldness of my emotional response to this. A very beautiful film in many ways, but I like my favorite parts of Ugetsu better than anything in Sansho. (Both are closer to the middle of my Mizoguchi preferences than to my top).

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#148 Post by Sloper » Tue Jan 13, 2009 6:41 am

Sansho was my first, and remains my favourite, Mizoguchi, whereas I reacted to Crucified Lovers in much the same way as Nostalghic has to Sansho. For me, Mizoguchi’s depiction of parent/child relationships is far more moving and powerful than his depiction of romantic love, which is why Gion Bayashi and the seriously unloved Shin Heike Monogatari are also among my favourites.

It seemed to me that Crucified Lovers didn’t work hard enough to gain my sympathy for the central couple, and it sounds like you (Nostalghic) feel the same about Sansho, where we see almost nothing of the actual relationship between the mother and her children. Mizoguchi is very subtle; he doesn’t give you much to chew on; so you either feel for these delicately, elliptically drawn characters, or you don’t. I often don’t… But on revisiting The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu recently, both of which had left me cold before, I found them to be beautiful, and at times quite moving, films. So expectation certainly has a lot to do with it. I enjoy these other films a lot more now that I don’t expect to be moved by them – there’s so much else to admire in Mizoguchi's work. (By the same token, my repeat views of Sansho are often disappointing. That's emotions for you, I guess.)

As a measure of how personal these kind of reactions are, I would disagree completely with Michael K that the son is the central character in Sansho. For me, although she has very little screen time, this role is clearly filled by the mother. At the beginning, the story is told from her point of view, and even when she is separated from her children, her voice continues to permeate their lives; it still feels as though she’s watching over them (as is their father), waiting for them to find her, and this is part of what gives the film an eerie power similar to that of Ugetsu. The scene where we see her trying to escape from Sado (if I have the name right) is one of the most heart-rending things I’ve ever seen in a film.

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#149 Post by nostalghic » Tue Jan 13, 2009 8:36 am

I agree with you both Sloper and Matango that expectations can be a bit of a killer. I try to do what I can to escape them, but often, it's almost impossible. Ugestu was the first Mizoguchi film I'd seen and the expectations there were really hard to suppress– it's hard to think of another director so universally praised to the height of Mizoguchi. When I came out of Ugetsu having been really moved even in the wake of all the expectation I knew I had hit an extremely good piece of work. I guess coming into Sansho I was very much hoping to be as arrested as I was with Ugestu, so the expectations were high.

The performance of the son was a bit overdone. Perhaps that contributed (with the writing) to me not feeling much for the character. Considering he had quite a bit more screen time than the mother (who was definitely the centrepiece of the film) it was hard to get away from him and start sympathising with other characters.

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Re: 386 Sansho the Bailiff

#150 Post by knives » Tue Apr 13, 2010 10:54 pm

Something tells me that Mizoguchi just isn't for me. While this was a greatly improved experience over Ugetsu, which left me dead on the floor, the film just didn't work for me. The acting by all of the male actors, except the one playing Sansho, is what killed it the most for me. In general I can put up with bad acting, but this was just some of the worst I've seen. I will have to compliment it though on sidelining my expectations. About an hour in I thought it was going to go Hunchback of Notre Dame by having the son meet up with all of the success because of his nobility without any genuine care for the slaves. I guess I should be happy with the sledgehammer he used than. Nevertheless scratching at the back of my head the things politically I should have liked rang false for some odd reason; as if I were watching someone give an impassioned lecture on something they completely disagree with. There was another thing missing that I can't put my finger on yet. A similar problem to what I have with most Kurosawa. Stylistically there's something missing for me, the fact that I can't help but compare him to Ozu and Naruse probably doesn't help. I'll give him one more shot, and really despite what I've said I actually enjoyed most of this movie, but I better be careful with my selection.

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