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Sansho the Bailiff (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 6, 2013

This is my third time watching this movie, and it doesn’t get any easier.  The story is incredibly heart-breaking, constantly wagging some slim thread of hope in front of you and yanking it away.  There are films with more and greater hardship, but few directors have the ability to make it so powerfully affecting like Mizoguchi.  The way he draws out the ending of this film, letting each little moment sink in, building tension by delaying those emotional beats we know are coming… it’s masterful.

Immaculate framing and composition, and some of the most graceful camera movement you’ll ever see.  Some gloriously beautiful images here… without giving anything away, there’s a pair of scenes by a particular body of water that are quietly breathtaking.  And an earlier scene involving water — the initial abduction — is brilliantly shot as well.  Mizoguchi moves the camera when there’s motion in the story and keeps it still for moments of reflection and revelation.  Also some terrific cuts from present to past in the flashbacks.

As always, I find it difficult to write about Mizoguchi’s work, especially without repeating myself.  I wouldn’t hesitate to call him one of my favorite directors, and I’ve seen 20 of his films… and yet I rarely yearn to revisit them.  But I’m okay with that.  Not every movie has to be one that you want to see over and over.  Sometimes their power makes itself fully felt on the first viewing.  Still, I’m keeping my Blu-Ray copy (thanks Criterion!).  I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll feel like watching it again (it’s a massive bummer, for one thing) but I’m happy to have such a wonderfully realized work at art in my collection.  Rating: Great (93)


4 Responses to “Sansho the Bailiff (rewatch)”

  1. Jeff Pike said

    Just happened to see this myself a few days ago. Beautiful, amazing, and very wrenching. A clinic in filmmaking but as you say also almost hard to take.

  2. […] 175. Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi) […]

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