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Friday, January 2, 2009

SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954)

Perhaps because it’s based on a well known folk tale (a noble family is destroyed when a commitment to modern humanistic ideas result in a father's exile and virtual slavery for his wife & children), this late work by the great Kenji Mizoguchi keeps its themes and concerns right on the surface, rather than buried in the texture of his narrative. SANSHO comes off as magnificent, but somewhat pre-processed; neat & tidy enough for the international award circuit. (And it deserves every single one; it’s a very great film.) It doesn’t puzzle or linger on your brain and under your skin the way his greatest work does. On the other hand, as a Mizoguchi entry point, it may be easier for a non-Japanese audience to get a handle on.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The restrained camera work and meticulously balanced compositions, which play against the sickening brutality of some the action (a crucial early scene of separation is almost unbearable), is surprisingly similar in style to the clean craft of Hollywood master William Wyler. Sure enough, his working methods, according to some of the interviews included on the disc, were remarkably like Wyler's. No comments, no help, no suggestions about what you were doing wrong or what was missing from the scene; just do it one more time.

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