Sansho The Bailiff Review


A tale as old as Time

Sansho The Bailiff

Director Kenji Mizoguchi

Stars: Kyōko Kagawa/Eitarō Shindō/Yoshiaki Hanayagi

Year Released: 1954

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 2 hours 4 Minutes

The Tale of Spoilers


How much does one person have to go thru before they can find justice? You’ll be asking yourself this during every minute of “Sansho the Bailiff” the heartbreaking tale of struggle and survival in ancient Japan. After the governor of the province of Tango tries to lower taxes and lessen military conscription, his superiors, disgusted with his kindness and mercy have him banished to a minor post in the boondocks of Japan. Before leaving he tells his son Zushio (Masahiko Tsugawa) that, “without mercy, man is like a beast. Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others. Men are created equal. Everyone is entitled to happiness”. Sadly happiness is not in the cards for this young man. When he and his mother Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka) his sister Anju (Keiko Enami) meet a seemingly good Samaritan, they are soon betrayed and kidnapped and then sold into slavery.

The children are separated from their mother and are forced into the service of the ruthless Bailiff Sansho (a Bailiff is in charge of a lord’s manor) a merciless thug who works his slaves from dawn till dusk and brands anyone who angers him with a hot iron. The two children almost give into despair until Taro (Akitake Kōno) Sansho kind son encourages them by saying that their fathers’ teachings were wise and that they should grow up strong so they can escape. Sadly after ten years of servitude Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) has lost hope and become a brutal enforcer for Sansho, while Anju (Kyōko Kagawa) still holds on to hope. Anju’s spirits are lifted when she gets word from another slave that her mother may still be alive on Sado Island, which she takes as a sign that they should escape.

The flight from slavery will be filled with triumph and tragedy as our humble heroes experience the greatest of joys and the worst of sorrows. “Sansho the Bailiff “is a superb movie, I say this without hesitation because it actually managed to tug at MY heartstrings, and I spent good money to have my heart replaced with a freakin icebox. I had heard that “Sansho the Bailiff” was one of the greatest films ever made in Japan and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the fact that the story is hundreds of years old (it was passed down orally for generations until finally getting into print and later becoming this movie) and, it is still relevant today, especially in America where the wounds of slavery are especially deep.

It is a simple tale of humanity and hope in the face of overwhelming oppression and despite a few flaws I loved every minute of it. Director Kenji Mizoguchi is one of Japans most respected filmmakers and “Sansho the Bailiff” shows all his skill. Especially odd was his focus on both the poor and women in a historical setting. While Zushio gets the most screen time, all his successes are helped by the sacrifices of the women n his life. To wake a movie focused on women in such a male dominated country as Japan is impressive but even more impressive is “Sansho the Bailiffs” art design

According to the DVD commentary “Sansho the Bailiff” was made to be a showcase of traditional Japanese arts. The soundtrack uses classical Japanese music and the scenes were made to look like traditional Japanese artwork. The result is a film where most of the scenes look like they could be framed and put into a museum. The entire cast gives superb performances that show such raw emotion that the language barrier is simply not an issue. This may be due to the high standards of Mizoguchi who would make actors skip meals and run laps if they didn’t look tired or hungry enough. The few flaws I could find were mainly in the story. Remember how Sansho’s kind son comforted our two orphans. Hope you liked him because that character never shows up after that. Also, there are a couple leaps of logic and absurd twists of fate, in the grand tradition of Charles Dickens and Horatio Alger. Meaning a poor person jumps social classes due to a simple act of kindness being repaid a hundred times over. Fortunately, everything else about this movie is so good, it’s easy to ignore any flaws it might have, and I recommend this one for absolutely everyone.


Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes

Would I buy it: Yes

What are your thoughts on marriage rights: People should be able to get married in any state they want whether Solid, Liquid or Gas


Life is Fragile






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