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on 13 December 2007
I bought this for the justly famous Sansho Dayu, and knew nothing about the "B side" Gion Bayashi. This latter film is in fact well worth the price by itself. Kogure Michiyo as Miyoharu, the elder geisha, is mesmerising and the film packs an astonishing slow-burn punch (if there is such a concept). It's got a lot of interest on a purely cultural level, with all the geisha stuff, and is as visually beautiful as you'd expect from the director of Ugetsu. But what knocks you flat is the power of Miyoharu's story: an abused woman vastly the moral superior of everyone around her, with that extraordinary, apparently passive, strength of so many of the classic Japanese heroines.
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on 7 December 2007
So...where are all the gushing reviews?

Sansho Dayu is easily one of the best films ever made, and we are incredibly lucky that it has finally been released by Masters of Cinema, the best producers of DVDs in this country (along with the BFI, perhaps). In some ways, this is an even better edition than the one Criterion released in America back in May.

You will never forget the first time you see this film; words can't begin to do justice to its visual beauty and its emotional impact. It stands comparison with the best films of Kurosawa and Ozu - with the best films of any director, come to that. Coupled with the almost equally marvellous (though smaller in scale) Gion Bayashi, this is a must-own DVD set for any self-respecting film buff. It is worth at least twice as much as Amazon are currently charging for it.
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on 9 February 2009
This set is an excellent introduction to Mizoguchi's films. Sansho Dayu is one of his best known films (also known in the UK as Sansho the Bailif). It is a pseudo-historical tragic family tale set in a abstract and distant past. It discusses injustice and the fragility of human destiny. It is a slow film and has the dreamy style that many consider Mizoguchi's trademark.

The second film, less known but undeservedly so, Gion Bayashi is completely different being a modern (1954) story set in the world of geishas. Geisha films were very popular at the time because of the change in legislation regarding prostitution in Japan and filmmakers like Naruse and Mizoguchi have used the background to show the contrast between the old and new Japan. It is the story of two women, a geisha in her thirties and a young 16 old girl who wishes to become the pupil of the elder woman and a wonderful love story.

The set is accompanied by a detailed booklet including an interview with Mizoguchi. If you want to find out more about this intriguing and versatile filmmaker I would heartily recommend this set.
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on 8 February 2012
Sansho Dayu is (along with Ugetsu Monogatari,) quite simply a masterpiece of Japanese (and indeed world) cinema. Sansho Dayu (and Ugetsu Monogatari) are frequently top (or near the top) of serious critics' lists of the best movies of all time. This movie is the tale of the sad fate of a brother and sister following the murder of their father and separation from their mother.

Mizoguchi is one of the gods of Japanese cinema; Ozu poignantly depicted the distances between generations and the changing face of the family in 20th century Japan but the principle concern of Kenji Mizoguchi was how women have suffered in a male-dominated society throughout Japanese history. This heartfelt theme was almost certainly instigated by his father's brutal treatment of Mizoguchi's mother and sisters and the eventual selling of his older sister into the life of a geisha. Often in his films women suffer terribly as a result of inflexible social rules and hierarchies. Watching them, however, is continuously rewarding. This movie is poignant and tragic but it is not depressing to watch; here is a director at the top of his game.

Part of what makes these movies so outstanding is Mizoguchi's artistic use of the camera with perfect composition, framing and meticulously executed long takes. Watching this movie is a reminder of how, for many of us, black and white film has a quality which is essentially cinematic and part of the enjoyment of the experience. Mizoguchi's use of lighting and composition shares all the luminous formal beauty of Japanese art.

And then there is the story itself, with its unforgettable final scene.

An essential blu-ray for the genuine cinema fan.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 9 August 2014
Sansho Dayu is one of the great world films. Initially you imagine it's going to be difficult and very 'highbrow', being in Japanese, set in the 11th century, and relating to cultural norms very different from what we know in the 21st century in a completely different sort of society. But what is striking is how quickly you are drawn in to this melodrama which really plucks at the heartstrings, yet is genuinely moving, and shows restraint in the filming and acting style in spite of the very emotionally charged scenes which punctuate it. It tells the story, over at least two decades, of a governor's family in feudal Japan. He is sent into exile and his family, trying to get to him a few years later, are separated and sold into a life of slavery. The scene where the mother is separated from the two children is one of several harrowing sequences, and only the beginning of their real travails, but in the end there is a triumph of courage, if only arrived at by taking leave of reality in a conclusion that has Robinson Crusoe-like overtones. The music is beautiful and the dialogues haunting. To see this film helps you to relativise the ills in our society. I had expected the second film Gion Bayashi, also made in the fifties, to be a filler, but how wrong I was ... it is also a very moving study of the life of geishas in contemporary Japan, and once again shows the individual subject to unacceptable constraint and cruelty, even if it is not quite as extreme as the other film. The relationship between the two main characters, a woman in her thirties and a new girl who is very young, could hardly be more touching or truthful, and the older woman, Miyoharu, is a noble soul indeed. Both films have an exquisite surface and attention to composition, and they bring a remarkable, intimist tone to the social canvases they depict. The booklet contains the complete text by Mori Ogai on which Sansho Dayu is based, which is itself taken from a legend. There are also about 35 minutes of introductions by Tony Rayns that are quite illuminating on the context of Mizoguchi's work and the man himself.
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I did't know what I was expecting when I placed this black and white Japanese film, made under the American Occupation in the 1950's into the DVD slot. The first few frames set the scene; the old fashioned huts, then it slipped into a sense of high moral tone of father instructing children in the need to be good, or so I thought. On reflection I think I was ready for a strong propaganda film about filial piety and the need to respect elders and then watch the scenery. The type of values known as the Eastern Way based on Confucius.

But far from it, after the good father upholds moral decency within his kingdom, he suddenly suffers the perennial blows of misfortune and is carted off for helping the poor and destitute. The fate of his misfortune then tumbles forward, not just onto him, but his wife and children who are also branded with taint.

The morality within this film is not Nebraska/Kansas/Ohio but something much more brutal and disgusting, the destruction of human beings as they are ground into objects. Within the dialogue lies a seething resentment, directed at social class, ripping apart the feudal bureaucratic bonds that tied people together within hierarchies of pure naked oppression. Whilst the Americans did not want a Japanese revival based on a feudal identity, this slipped past the censors plying for a Communist escape from bondage by highlighting sheer degradation of entrapment.

After a series of vignettes concerned with trusting in others and being lied to, we are finally led into the interior of a slave camp. Nowhere have I seen slavery depicted with such an honest sense of overpowering brutality and pungent despair. The film weeps with utter entrapment and a childhood life completely stultified. Hope kindles as a small flame but is forever burning within a howling wind. Love between siblings, parents and the connections to others becomes one form of carrying on calmly, as does adapting to the the social milieu which whips into the bodies with its sheer will to power.

Shot with another form of artistic sensibility, this carries the same sense of hopelessness as Lean's "Great Expectations," but whereas Dickens could play to the gallery in the mid west of America, this just opens the bolted trapdoor on an existential wilderness to open itself to reveal an ever hurtling soundless universe.

An absolute stunning film which will leave the viewer numbed by the end with raw edged nerves, shredded finely as a bleak desolate form of emotional reality, this is finally screamed into view, offering an analogy to surviving Oranienburg, Dachau, Treblinka, or Mauthaussen.
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VINE VOICEon 29 September 2001
An awesomely Shakespearian masterpiece, this is a feudal tale of a young man who manages to overthrow the evil rule of the local slave-owning bailiff Sansho who has captured him and his sister after the exile of their mother. The cinematography is stunning, the mise-en-scene is out of this world, and the ending is the most moving you are ever likely to see. A quite perfect film. One small quibble: the eponymous Sansho is actually a rather minor character, so I think it should have been retitled!
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on 1 November 2008
When I read film reviews by Americans claiming "The Godfather" as the greatest film ever made, I have to laugh.

When I remember the wise, profoundly moving, visually beautiful "Sansho Dayu", I have to weep, as I did when I first saw this film in the cinema, and on the two occasions that I have seen it since. Yes, it is tragic in the true sense of the word, filled (like "King Lear") with instances of the cruelty and brutality of man to man. Yet one leaves the cinema (or turns off the television) changed and enriched by the compassion and wisdom of this film.

The greatest film ever made? I don't know, although I can think of only a handful of others that approach it. But if only a single film from the entire history of the cinema could be preserved for future generations, this is the one I would choose.
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on 11 March 2004
There's only few films comparable with this masterpiece in history of cinema. Mizogushi ascends on top of his great talent to tell us simple story placed in early period of japan history - Heian. Slavery increased then and two nobely born children are kidnapped by dealers to work in the slave camp. Instead their mother is force to prostitution. Years after kids grow and decide to find mother... Whole movie includes many of unspeakable beautyfull scenes but also sad and even cruel parts. It was cinematographed by Kazuo Miyagawa, perhaps the most comprehensive cinematographer in cinema. If you've seen famous Kurosawa's films, 'Rashomon' and 'Yojimbo', you should notice how difrent in way of photography are these two pieces. However, there was the same director of photography in these two causes and he named Kazuo Miyagawa. In 'Sansho Dayo' Miyagawa made another great work: soft impression of picture that underlines lyrical type of the story (what a the difrent compared with hard shadowlight contrast in 'Rashomon'!). If I've been mentioned Kurosawa then I think is worth of write that it's Fumiyo Hayasaka who composed music for 'Sansho Dayu'. Yes, he's guy who's created music for 'Rashomon', 'The Seven Samurai', 'Ikiru' and many other. His work in 'Sansho' is really beautyfull and distinguished likely whole film.
There're also other great values except perfect form in this movie. One of them (and maybe the most important) is deep humanism and optimism in spite of sad image of the world. 'Without mercy people are like wild beasts' - learns little Zushio from his father. Following these words he'll find his point finally.
Yes, 'Sansho Dayu' is beautyfull and wise movie. I've it on VHS and I'll probably buy DVD when be relased. I hope it'll be on DVD as soon as posible because is very worth of the highest quality transfer.
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on 12 June 2015
This 1954 movie, set in Medieval Japan, and directed by Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi is a great adventure film. The story is a long one (warning, major point plots will be revealed ahead) but basically is about a brother and sister, Zushio and Anju, children of a powerful but honest governor, who are taken from their mother and sold into slavery once their father fells into disgrace. They are forced to work under horrible conditions in a camp run by the brutal Sansho of the title. They spend many years there, becoming young adults in the camp. Zushio eventually manages to escape. A high imperial official, moved by his story, appoints him governor of the region where Sansho's camp is located. This will allow him to exact justice for what happened to him. But will he be able to save his mother and sister?

Sansho is not the protagonist of the film, but he is a great villain. The actors include some stalwarts of Japanese classic cinema, such as Eitaro Shindo (who is great as Sansho), Kyoko Kagawa (playing Anju as an adult) or Kinuyo Tanaka (as the mother of Zushio and Anju). The movie's only weakness: a crucial plot point is hard to believe: the high official has scarcely met Zushio yet he quickly appoints him as a governor.
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