Sansho the Bailiff (1954)


Link: Sansho the Bailiff

Summary: This Japanese film from director Kenji Mizoguchi is based on an adaptation of a Japanese folk tale.  It tells the story of a boy who is separated from his parents and sold into slavery under the ruthless Sansho the Bailiff.  But he grows up, escapes, becomes powerful, and sets out to bring Sansho to justice and find his parents.

Thoughts: Honestly, I thought the story was rather boring.  The premise is certainly ripe with material, but the characters hardly make any interesting decisions themselves, save for a few near the end when Zushio arrests Sansho.  I imagine if Kurosawa was working with the same material, he’d make it much more dramatic.

Filmmaking wise, Mizoguchi makes very effective use of action-oriented long shots, fluidly moving the camera for emotional impact to the point where you wouldn’t guess that you had watched a long shot without paying attention.  But he avoids close-ups and POV shots as much as possible.  I suppose he thought this would raise the emotional impact of the two-character interaction sequences, but I think close-ups would’ve helped a great deal; staying away from close-ups changes the emotional impact to a more observational sort, which I don’t think serves this story as well, because the emotional impact of this story comes from the characters’ reactions to circumstances more than the circumstances themselves.