Discussion of movies and ReelThoughts topics

It is currently Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:01 pm




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 8 posts ] 
88 Sansho the Bailiff 
Author Message
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff 1954
I'm looking forward to seeing Sansho more than any other movie on the top 100. So great was my anticipation that I purchased the film without seeing a single second of it... part of it was impulse (all Criterion titles are 50% - 70% off at the local B & N) and the other was a strong desire to get as far away from contemporary cinema as humanly possible. This was the best starting point for those of the top 100 I hadn't seen because, no matter his own opinion on the matter, it was recommended by Robert Holloway in the Quintessential Holloway post, the best example of his writing and enthusiasm in all of the Cinematic Journey thread.

Here's hoping it's one to sing about.


Sat Jul 25, 2009 1:16 am
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff 1954
majoraphasia wrote:
I'm looking forward to seeing Sansho more than any other movie on the top 100. So great was my anticipation that I purchased the film without seeing a single second of it... part of it was impulse (all Criterion titles are 50% - 70% off at the local B & N) and the other was a strong desire to get as far away from contemporary cinema as humanly possible. This was the best starting point for those of the top 100 I hadn't seen because, no matter his own opinion on the matter, it was recommended by Robert Holloway in the Quintessential Holloway post, the best example of his writing and enthusiasm in all of the Cinematic Journey thread.

Here's hoping it's one to sing about.


Majoraphasia,

You're far too kind :-)

Contemporary cinema has no hope when it's contrasted against the top 100 movies of all time. However, this is unfair as every year has produced gems and dogs. the difference for us is that we don't hear about the dogs from 1928.

I know that you will love this movie and if I'd been with you I'd have been buying Criterions at this price. Wow!

Of course, I'm now desperate to know what you think......

With baited breath
Rob

Ps - Back to Murnau and tonight's classic ;-)


Sat Jul 25, 2009 1:42 am
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff 1954
Note: this post is exceedingly long as it represents the entirety, warts and all, of everything I wrote after seeing the film. Normally, before submitting something, I edit it down or up to clean up all spotty areas or broaden some points. Because I feel the film was urgent and my thoughts were jumbled because of it I believed it would be better (for me, at least) to have a record of my response without the benefits of improved concision and all the rest.

Not very long ago I was holding my eighth-month-old daughter up while she attempted to stand on our kitchen table. She was facing me, my hands were under her arms for some support, and she was doing her best to balance – I could feel the slight rocking as she favored one leg and then the other, trying to gain the best stance to actually make the move past being held upright to standing on her own. It wasn’t going to happen and, after about ten minutes of watching her look around the room, laugh intermittently, and move about to get away from me, I loosened my grip slightly. She teetered forward – enough that she believed that, in a moment, she would be facedown on the table. And she was right, of course. I tightened my grip; she inhaled sharply, began crying, and I felt just about as terrible as I would had she fallen.

One of the earliest scenes in the gorgeous and enthralling epic Sansho the Bailiff is a group of travelers camped out by a very, very small fire. The fire is large enough to supply some mild heat and light but, we’re told, has been lit to “keep the wolves away.” It isn’t very much of a fire and so it isn’t clear what manner of wolf would avoid this group.

The group aforementioned is composed of Zushio, Anju, their mother Tamaki and a servant. They’re on their way to be with their exiled father, the former governor of Tango province. After being tricked by a priestess, the mother is sold into prostitution while the children are sold into slavery under Sansho, the bailiff of a private feudal manor. The chain of events that follows this first-act establishment should be familiar to anyone with access to a newspaper or a television, particularly in the wake of any number of historical events occurring in the past decade. It’s the familiarity of the situations and the grave emotions the movie communicates so effortlessly that make this film among the most vitally important I’ve seen.

While the children are enslaved, working menial tasks under Sansho for a faceless Minister of Right, the mother very literally calls across the ocean in order to lament their separation. The children, however, spend their time listening to the well-earned cynicism of their fellow slaves – they’ll never leave, they’ll never even have the proper opportunity for escape, and they’ll die as slaves. In one of many heartbreaking scenes a man of 70 begs to be freed so he may die without the burden of being a slave – this is no small scene and establishes the predominant theme for Sansho the Bailiff.

Understand, Sansho is hardly even a character – his screen time is limited to a few exhortations and little else. But the reach he has is no less profound than absolute. Those living under him may entertain the idea of freedom, in fact may hold on to the idea that one day they’ll leave to, at the very least, die. But those thoughts can last a person 50 or more years. Think of that! One has to guess that this is what hell is like – an unspoken promise of an end to torture and misery. So long as the hope is there then the misery may be eternal.

When a sick woman begins to succumb to her illness, Anju and Zashio have the opportunity to escape. Zashio takes it while Anju remains behind.

“We’ll be caught if we’re together,” she says before Zaishio carries the ailing woman to a monastery not far off from their manor. It’s been ten years since they were sold and, given that their family either remains apart forever or they enjoy, in some small part, freedom the family is further divided. Anju, rather than face torture to name the whereabouts of her brother or face getting both of them caught and returned to Sansho, drowns herself. Zaishio, however, successfully disappears.

A second theme becomes clear throughout the film – fathers and mothers are in virtually endless supply. I found it curious, at least initially, that film took its name from a character that has virtually no presence. But, as the story unfolded, it became clear that those with the most absolute influence over the lives of others need not be in any position other than stated, fearful authority. Sansho is by-and-large impotent (a late scene has him reduced to his obvious, pathetic humanity as he himself is sent into exile) but he’s ultimately the face of keeping the people exactly where the brutal state would have them. Without Sansho, and without the ghost of an exiled governor/father, there wouldn’t be a 10-year pause for a family. There wouldn’t be a 50-year pause in the lives of many without a man like Sansho.

A person being detained for weeks in prison for being in New Orleans during a hurricane, unsure of why he’s waiting in a federal cell… it must be hell. A person sold into slavery and spending 5, 10, 50 years waiting to see if something will come along… it must be hell. That moment when you think you can stand on your own and the moment thereafter when you inhale sharply, waiting to take a fall… .

Zashio, after leaving the ailing woman in the hands of monks, eventually appeals to a higher order and finds himself given the post of governor for Tango. His first mandate, of course, is outlawing slavery and freeing everyone under Sansho. He’s told that the rebound he’ll face for using his authority to free slaves in a private manor will be severe. But, as Zashio would have it, those slaves aren’t spending any more time under anyone’s eye. And so, just like that, Sansho faces his former slave and is arrested for breaking a law he had no idea existed, no idea could be enforced once he was made aware. And off into exile goes Sansho, the slaves (including the now 80-year-old man we saw earlier) freed.

Zashio reunites with his mother in a scene that won’t be described for me but, I believe, should be seen by everyone who honestly gives two cents about cinema. What I will describe is one of the closing scenes. And it won’t take long. And it’s coming soon.

Before closing shop it must be mentioned that Criterion’s package for Sansho the Bailiff is second-to-none. This is a gorgeous film and Criterion’s transfer is never less than perfect – those whites are white, those blacks are black, and everything in between looks as if it could be mistaken for an Ansel Adams. Whatever edge enhancement the people at Criterion employed is unnoticeable for the richness of the picture and depth of the incredible cinematography. A film this strikingly beautiful has to be seen -- this is a perfect example of how black and white photography can take a perfect film and, somehow, deepen its perfection. As Rob wrote in his excellent post, "9/10 and getting warmer all the time." I believe "10/10 and getting warmer all the time," more truly reflects my feelings for Sansho the Bailiff. One of the best. And it's only number 88 at that. Think of that!

Some 10 minutes before the film ends, shortly after Sansho goes into exile, the freed slaves burn down their former compound including the house of the bailiff. The fire is extraordinarily large – it can be seen from miles away, the smoke pluming so far into the sky that it merges with it to deny the viewer any opportunity to spot where it actually ends. The fire couldn’t possibly be any larger or more frightening. So much for those wolves.


Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:38 am
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff 1954
A well written line of thought, I viewed it a third time this past two weeks, and strongly agree that the warmth grows with each visit.

Each time I have viewed it I note different thoughts and feeling about each and every scene. This past viewing I was concentrating on the slaves and their environment with my mind wondering and yet understanding how they simply don't revolt due to their numbers. It is because of their demoralizing over a long period of years, much like what happened in many wars, and also in private kidnappings, where there might be opportunity yet you never take it because of the human condition and what you have gone through for so many years. Humanity can be beat down and this film reminds us of that so well. Humans can be terrible to each other.

thanks again for your thoughts.

Wade


Sun Jul 26, 2009 12:14 pm
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff 1954
Commodorefirst wrote:
A well written line of thought, I viewed it a third time this past two weeks, and strongly agree that the warmth grows with each visit.

Each time I have viewed it I note different thoughts and feeling about each and every scene. This past viewing I was concentrating on the slaves and their environment with my mind wondering and yet understanding how they simply don't revolt due to their numbers. It is because of their demoralizing over a long period of years, much like what happened in many wars, and also in private kidnappings, where there might be opportunity yet you never take it because of the human condition and what you have gone through for so many years. Humanity can be beat down and this film reminds us of that so well. Humans can be terrible to each other.

thanks again for your thoughts.

Wade


I believe there's something else to why we aren't given any hope of a revolt -- people frequently accept their state, even if there is great suffering in large numbers. Part of it is inertia but part of it is an acceptance, as I wrote in my comments, that even tortuous suffering is only temporary. Sansho the Bailiff won't get out of my mind -- we've so rarely been given a true image of what hell must be like and with such lyricism. I'll have to watch again but it may very well be the best movie I've seen.


Tue Jul 28, 2009 6:08 am
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff 1954
Majoraphsia

Congratulations on your write up of this movie, it's one of the best I have read from anyone, for any movie!! Roger Ebert will be jumping on here to get some hints at the rate you're going!

Your story is very inspiring and your comments instantly returned me to that world and the feelings that movie invoked. I remember when I was planning my journey that "Ugetsu" was one of the most anticipated stops. I had never heard of Saisho, yet is was this one that remains far stronger in my thoughts.

My girlfriend is also a big classic movie watcher - I guess she would have to be :lol: Strangely, she could not get into Saisho. i think this highlights one of the difficulties people have with these movies. many of them are in b&w, foreign languages, different eras and feature different cultures.

A little effort is required, but the rewards are outstanding

Thanks, that was a lovely read
Rob


Tue Jul 28, 2009 10:52 am
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff 1954
Robert Holloway wrote:
Majoraphsia

Congratulations on your write up of this movie, it's one of the best I have read from anyone, for any movie!! Roger Ebert will be jumping on here to get some hints at the rate you're going!

Your story is very inspiring and your comments instantly returned me to that world and the feelings that movie invoked. I remember when I was planning my journey that "Ugetsu" was one of the most anticipated stops. I had never heard of Saisho, yet is was this one that remains far stronger in my thoughts.

My girlfriend is also a big classic movie watcher - I guess she would have to be :lol: Strangely, she could not get into Saisho. i think this highlights one of the difficulties people have with these movies. many of them are in b&w, foreign languages, different eras and feature different cultures.

A little effort is required, but the rewards are outstanding

Thanks, that was a lovely read
Rob



Wow! Thank you for the generous compliment. When I feel strongly about a movie, or any masterful achievement in art, I want to get as many people to see it as I can. Very, very difficult to do this. Sansho is the kind of the film that, had I the money to do so, I would buy and hand out to anyone tired of seeing the same old same old. It stands in the company of Kieslowski's Red , Bergman's Fanny Och Alexander, Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and a scant few others. It was a thing to marvel at -- I wished, for 124 minutes, that every film could be so smart and engaging. As they say, it's like seeing a unicorn.


Tue Jul 28, 2009 5:05 pm
Cinematographer
User avatar

Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 9:17 pm
Posts: 529
Post Re: 88 Sansho the Bailiff
Sansho the Bailiff

I wouldn't call myself well versed in Japanese film. The only ones I have seen are the ones from the top 100, which I think is a good foundation, but definitely not comprehensive. However, my viewing of Sansho the Bailiff was enriched not by my film knowledge, but by my knowledge of Japanese art styles.

Last fall, I took an Asian art history course at my college to fulfill a requirement. Going in, I knew nothing about Asian art but had a decent grasp on Asian history. I had a great teacher and ended up loving the class. Again, while it wasn't comprehensive, I did gain a decent understanding of Asian art styles and how to view them.

Bringing this knowledge into Sansho significantly changed my appreciation for the film as well as the Japanese style. Every shot is masterfully composed by Kazuo Miyagawa, who is truly one of the best cinematographers in the history of film, and reflects a classical style that was developed over the course of centuries. It is a style that uses space, environment, and character interactions in a truly unique way. For example, the interior shots are dominated by their use of vertical and diagonal lines which frame the scene; this is a technique used in onna-e painting from the Heian period as well as Edo woodblock prints of the Tokyo pleasure district. Another example is the depiction of the dense wilderness and expansive landscapes that our characters live in; these are reminiscent of the monochromes of Sesshu and the woodblock prints of Hiroshige. Considering the cinematography from this point of view, Miyagawa becomes not an independent anomaly in the development of modern cinematography, but rather a master artist adopting traditional techniques to a new medium.

I know that I am neglecting the other aspects of the movie by focusing on the cinematography, but I don't think Sansho would be nearly as effective without it. That is not to say that the rest of the film is lacking. In fact, the writing is streamlined and insightful. The acting, while over the top at times, is touching and normal in a Japanese context. This is something I've been wondering about - is Japanese acting just traditionally exaggerated or do Japanese people actually act like this? I'm going to guess that this is based on the kabuki acting tradition.

There are two scenes here that should be required viewing for anyone who calls themselves a movie buff:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Anju's death scene
and the final scene. The former is wonderfully eerie and atmospheric while the latter is some of the best stuff you will ever see. It doesn't get much better than this.

Sansho is not a happy film. It's end is hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time. It explores the effects we have on each other as human beings. It's message is simple - be compassionate - but touching and fascinating at the same time. Zushio is an extremely well written character. He holds the narrative together.

I'm really surprised this isn't higher on the list. I definitely prefer it to the other Mizoguchi film in the top 100, Ugetsu.

4/4


Tue May 29, 2012 4:49 pm
Profile
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 8 posts ] 


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group.
Designed by Vjacheslav Trushkin for Free Forum/DivisionCore.
Translated by Xaphos © 2007, 2008, 2009 phpBB.fr