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Criterion Collection: Sansho the Bailiff [DVD] [1954] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

Region 1 encoding. (This DVD will not play on most DVD players sold in the UK [Region 2]. This item requires a region specific or multi-region DVD player and compatible TV. More about DVD formats)
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Product details

  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Unrated (US MPAA rating. See details.)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000NOK0H6
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 143,857 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
SANSHŌ DAYŪ (Sanshō, the Bailiff)
(1954, Japan, 125 min, b/w, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 4:3, Audio: Mono)

Spoilers ahead!

Sanshō Dayū is Mizoguchi Kenji’s most perfect film and one of the corner stones of world cinema. Personally, The Life of Oharu (1952) means more to me and I probably want to watch Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) most often of all, but of the three jidaigeki which won awards at Venice in three consecutive years, Sanshō Dayū is the most perfectly structured and the most satisfying both intellectually and aesthetically. It is fully the equal of and structurally superior to Kurosawa Akira’s Seven Samurai with which it shared the top prize in 1954. Stylistically poles apart, both jidaigeki journey to the heart of the human condition in profound meditations on what it takes for man to survive chaos. Kurosawa’s masterpiece is all about the superbly paced action sequences, the astonishing editing and the muscular way his characters are etched out to provide a profoundly moving dazzling spectacle without parallel anywhere. Mizoguchi’s film on the other hand is altogether quieter, sadder and (on the surface at least) simpler. The film’s opening epitaph describes it as “One of the world’s folk tales full of grief,” and it is in essence a Buddhist meditation on the importance of mercy in perilous pre-civilization times (the film is set in the 11th century chaos of the late Heian era), as well as a meditation on the transitory nature of human existence termed ‘mujō’, which translates as the evanescence of all earthly things, the mutability of all earthly phenomena. Life is suffering and one cannot avoid one’s fate, the wheel of existence turning inexorably in an acceptance of both life and after-life as a single complete entity forever rejuvenating itself.
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Format: DVD
"Without mercy," says Taira Masauji to Zushio, his young son, "man is not a human being." He was a provincial governor in late Heian Japan, a fair man who tried to bring justice to the peasants. He is being exiled for disagreeing with the province's feudal lord. Years later, the boy, now a young man, is given this advice by a monk. "Humans have little sympathy for things that don't directly concern them. They're ruthless. Unless those hearts can be changed, the world you dream of cannot come true."

Which message is the true one?

Sansho the Bailiff is a beautiful, simple folk tale of grief. It eventually works its way into a redemptive humanity, but not until we have experienced the deepest of sorrow and injustice. When Zushio's father is exiled, he, his mother and his sister must set out to find protection with distant relatives. They are captured by slave traders. Their mother is separated from them sold into prostitution. He and his younger sister are taken as slaves to work in the manor of a distant great lord. The manor is run ruthlessly by Sansho, the bailiff. The work is unending. Those who are sick must keep working, and when they are unable to work they are taken to a field and left to die. Those who try to escape are branded. There is no hope. The two children grow to be adults. The sister has kept her sense of humanity. She has never forgotten her mother. Zushio has gradually become as heart-hearted as the bailiff and his overseers. He has forgotten his father's teachings. At one point he brands another slave, an old man, who tried to escape. A woman near death, taken out to be left to die, awakens what we thought Zushio had forgotten. His sister tells him to escape, and stays behind to delay the pursuit.
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Kenji Mizoguchi just couldn't make a bad movie - as well as he was unable to make comedies... So no wonder that this one is also a masterpiece, on the same level as "Ugetsu" or "Oharu". It is also as sad as both of these two movies - in fact some of the moments are almost sadistic... Great actors, great camera work, good music - a treasure. Sad, but marvelous.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.6 out of 5 stars 63 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RANKS NO. 1, ALONG WITH GRAND ILLUSION, FOR BEST EVER! 25 Jan. 2010
By Elaine Campbell - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
After having just viewed a Japanese film ranked as "One of the top 10 films of our time," and finding it to be, in my estimation, excellent, but not deserving of a higher ranking, I decided to view Sancho the Bailiff, as it was in my collection of unwatched films, really just to get it out of the way.

Boy, was I knocked out of my recliner chair readily enough as the movie kept progressing to spellbinding and profound proportions.

I found myself truly watching, not only one of the best 10 films ever made, but one of the best, in my estimation, top 2 films ever made, the only comparison I can make being of that with Grand Illusion. The two are equal in superb quality in every possible way.

By the way, I rank as number 3, The Lives of Others.

This film is about how the cruelty of a few destroys the lives of many due to the acquisition and maintenance of unconscionable power: personal, governmental and even, perhaps, worldwide.

The director, Kenji Mizoguchi's (1898-1956) elder sister was given up for adoption when the family encountered hard times. Somewhat later she was sold as a geisha, affecting her brother's, and our director's, weltanschauung profoundly. He was also privy to observing his father's brutal treatment of his mother and sister.

A star of the film, Kinkyo Tanaka, was the first Japanese woman who worked as a film director. She first directed Love Letter in 1953, and she directed five further films as well.

This film is the best depiction of the experience of slavery (both of master and subject) that I am familiar with. It is awesome, it is spellbinding, it is overwhelming. It really has to be viewed in the marvellous Criterion footage of it to be adequatetly described!

Let's remember this great film's watchword: "Without mercy, man is like a beast."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true world masterpiece of cinema ... in a beautiful edition 18 Oct. 2012
By MAJU - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This 1954 film by Mizoguchi Kenji, which reflects on the plight of a noble family caught in the political and moral turmoil of Heian Japan and their tragic plight, is a true masterpiece not only of Japanese but of world cinema. It is, arguably, one of the most dramatic, beautifully shot, and finest films ever made. The Criterion edition, which includes the original short story by the renowned Japanese novelist, Mori Ogai (1862-1922), is definitely worth owning and watching more than once. Like a great vintage wine, it gets better with every year and decade that passes.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragic Beauty 13 Oct. 2007
By Randy Keehn - Published on
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I had heard about "Sansho the Bailiff" for years and I must say that I was not prepared for what I saw when I watched it today. This is a masterfully told story that leaves us wishing that the story had a different ending. It is Shakespearean in the scope of its' tragedy and leaves us rather numb. At least, it left me rather numb.

As I was explaining Japanese movies to my teenage son, I told him we have our Westerns and the Japanese have their Samurais. This is of the proper era although it really doesn't qualify as a Samurai movie. It is a morality tale that speaks to the importance of mercy by showing us a part of the world where there was no mercy. In making its' point, it gives no quarter. We can argue for different results but we aren't stuck in a world for years in which no one cares; at least no one who can do anything to help.

There are a wide range of emotions on display in "Sansho the Bailiff" which, along with its' sets and costumes are the essential source of the movie's greatness. Kudos to the director, Kenji Mizoguchi and the excellent cast. This is the same director of the classic movie "Ugetsu" and these two movies are reason enough to search out more of his work. His ability to say so much with so little is quite impressive.
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning B&W images, a story told in a masterly ... 29 Mar. 2017
By george h dummett - Published on
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
Stunning B&W images , a story told in a masterly way in its original format, but in Region A only.
5.0 out of 5 stars Without the Compassion, People are Animals 27 Mar. 2016
By Stacygirl - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
A story about a noble family with Buddhist morality had to endure the unthinkable misery after the father was punished by the evil politicians. At the end, after the great sacrifices, some consolations and reunion which made me cry.
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