Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Jp.) (aka Sanshô Dayû)

In Kenji Mizoguchi's very moving and sad drama (about a family torn apart) - set in medieval 11th century Japan during a time of warring social classes ("an era when mankind had not yet awakened as human beings"):

  • the wise advice of feudal governor and father Masauji Taira (Masao Shimizu), given to his young son Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) - along with a small golden statue-amulet representing the Goddess of Mercy, Kwannon: "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 their happiness"
  • the devastating sequence of the separation of the family - the lakeside seizure of mother Tamaki's (Kinuyo Tanaka) daughter Anju (Kyôko Kagawa) and son Zushiô, who were sold to the estate of Sanshô (Eitarô Shindô), a ruthless, cruel and corrupt bailiff, tax-collector and manager of a lordship's manor, who maintained a large slave contingent; the two children became indentured servants, and the mother was sold into prostitution on Sado Island
  • a new slave girl brought news of the mother (via an evocative song with their original names: "Zushio, how I long for you, Anju, how I long for you") - this confirmed that the mother (now a courtesan) was still alive (although with a new name, Nakagimi); it was learned that she had made many attempts to escape, so that her captors had cut her Achilles' tendons
  • the use of sound joined together the mother and her now-grown children - ten years later, when she called to them from a hilltop: "Zushio...Anju!" (although the two had taken different names to conceal their identities, Shinobu and Mushu)
  • Mushu's neglect of his father's advice as he became a barbaric henchman for Sansho and carried out murder and torture (branding) of other slaves
  • during an escape sequence by the two children, the tragic scene of Anju's self-sacrificial drowning (off-screen) in a lake (to avoid capture and torture - "Isn't life torture?" - and not reveal her brother's location) - she slowly walked into deepening water, and her death was symbolized only by peaceful ripples on the lake's surface
  • the nihilistic sequence, when the former slaves were freed by a converted Zushio (who had escaped and was appointed governor), and they revolted and burned down Sanshô’s manor, and exiled the nefarious bailiff
  • after twenty years, the tearful reunion of Zushio with his hobbled, half-mad mother (now aged, lame and blind, and with a shattered life), on the tsunami-devastated beach of the island of Sado, when he heard his mother's singing - at first she didn't believe he was her son, and then was saddened to hear when he revealed that both Anju and her husband were dead: "It's just you and I. We're all alone now" - he claimed that he had finally adopted his father's teachings: "I could have come for you as a governor, but I gave up my title in order to follow Father's teachings. Please, Mother, forgive me!" - she responded: "What nonsense do you speak of? I don't know what you have done, but I know that you followed your Father's teachings. And that is why we have been able to meet again"


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