Sansho the Bailiff (1954) poster
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# of Watchers: 238
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Ranked #15518
Popularity #17514
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In mediaeval Japan a compassionate governor is sent into exile. His wife and children try to join him, but are separated, and the children grow up amid suffering and oppression. Edit Translation

  • English
  • magyar / magyar nyelv
  • dansk
  • Norsk
  • Country: Japan
  • Type: Movie
  • Release Date: Mar 31, 1954
  • Duration: 2 hr. 4 min.
  • Score: N/A (scored by 0 users)
  • Ranked: #15518
  • Popularity: #17514
  • Content Rating: Not Yet Rated

Cast & Credits


Sansho the Bailiff (1954) photo
Sansho the Bailiff (1954) photo
Sansho the Bailiff (1954) photo
Sansho the Bailiff (1954) photo
Sansho the Bailiff (1954) photo
Sansho the Bailiff (1954) photo


The Butterfly
4 people found this review helpful
Apr 16, 2024
Completed 0
Overall 8.5
Story 8.5
Acting/Cast 7.5
Music 7.5
Rewatch Value 7.5

"A man is not a human being without mercy"

Sansho the Bailiff had little to do with the title character and everything to do with two noble children sold into slavery to him. A family torn apart never let the dream die of being reunited one day. They would all have to decide if they should continue doing the right thing when good things happened to bad people and bad things happened to good people.

A governor who refuses to let the military conscript and further tax his people who have experienced famine for 13 years is stripped of his title and exiled. Before he leaves, he tells his son to remember that “A man is not a human being without mercy…Everyone is entitled to their happiness.” He gives Zushio the treasured family statuette of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy to keep with him. His wife Tamaki and the two young children stay for a time with her brother and then determine to make the long trek in search of the father. Along the way they are betrayed in an area rife with bandits and slave dealers. Tamaki is sold into prostitution on a distant island and the children are sold into slavery to Sansho the Bailiff. Sansho is a cruel slave owner who keeps his slaves in a walled compound. Any attempt at escape results in a branding on the forehead. Sansho’s son, Taro, is kind to the children and tells them to endure until they are old enough to escape and make the difficult journey to their father. He then leaves the compound, never to return. As the children age, Anju adheres to her father’s words of wisdom while Zushio abandons them and in a twist of fate becomes the cruel "son" Taro could never be.

Calling out injustice was a familiar theme for Mizoguchi. In this film, the barbarism of forced labor camps was brought forth. More than once, the suffering of the common people was dismissed as unimportant by the affluent leaders. Much as his sister in real life had been, Tamaki was sold into prostitution. Despite the longing and despair of the characters, the scenery was amazing. Cinematographer Miyagawa Kazuo brought great beauty to the black and white film with stunning outdoor shots. Mizoguchi used water in several scenes—a lake and the ocean providing two of the more powerful moments in the film. Sansho’s slave encampment was claustrophobic and filthy, dark with hopelessness hanging over the weary people.

Sansho the Bailiff was based on a 1915 short story which was based on an old folk tale. What is curious about the title of the film was that Sansho was the villain and appeared far less than Zushio and Anju who were sold into slavery to him. Instead of Sansho’s story this was the boy Zushio’s as he grew into manhood. The mother and children were given different names along their journeys of suffering and as they sought to hold onto and rediscover their identities. Zushio’s growth and quest to reunite his family was the narrative backbone to the film. And if his growth was the backbone, Anju’s and Tamaki’s loving persistence was the life-giving blood of the film. Both women had deeply poignant scenes that will linger in my mind. Anju had a devastating scene that far from being melodramatic was like ripples through time that would affect other characters’ lives. And like those ripples the good done by the family members spread ever outward even when the family paid the cost. Sansho the Bailiff juxtaposed man’s cruelty and ability to be merciful, an ongoing battle even now as humankind decides who they want to be when they grow up.

15 April 2024

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  • Movie: Sansho the Bailiff
  • Country: Japan
  • Release Date: Mar 31, 1954
  • Duration: 2 hr. 4 min.
  • Content Rating: Not Yet Rated


  • Score: N/A (scored by 0 users)
  • Ranked: #15518
  • Popularity: #17514
  • Watchers: 238

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