Based on an ancient legend, as recounted by celebrated author Mori Ogai (in his short story of the same name, written in 1915), and adapted by Japanese director Mizoguchi Kenji, Sansho Dayu is both distinctively Japanese and as deeply affecting as a Greek tragedy. Described in its opening title as "one of the oldest and most tragic in Japan's history", Mizoguchi depicts an unforgettably sad story of social injustice, family love, personal sacrifice, and fateful tragedy. Set in Heian era (11th century) Japan, it follows an aristocratic woman, Tamaki (played by Tanaka Kinuyo, who also stars in Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari), and her two children, Zushio (Hanayagi Yoshiaki) and Anju (Kagawa Kyoko), who are separated by feudal tyranny from Tamaki's husband. When the children are kidnapped and sold into slavery to the eponymous "Sansho" (Shindo Eitaro), the lives of each of the family members follow very different paths each course uniquely, and insufferably, tragic. Famed for its period reconstructions and powerful imagery, often through the director's trademark long takes, Sansho Dayu is one of the most critically revered of all of Mizoguchi's films, and a classic of world cinema, often cropping up in lists of the greatest films ever made. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present together with the lesser known Mizoguchi feature film Gion Bayashi, produced the year before Sansho Dayu, and presented here on DVD in the UK for the very first time this landmark film of exquisite tone and purity of emotion. Gion Bayashi is a drama set in the world of the courtesan, contrasting two different types of geisha on one hand, Eiko (Wakao Ayako), a sixteen-year old orphan who wishes to be taken in and trained; on the other, Miyoharu (Kogure Michiyo), an older, more experienced geisha, who agrees to mentor the younger woman living under the same roof in difficult personal circumstances. A fascinating, subtle insight into the lives of these women in 1950s Japan. SPECIAL FEATURES - Lavish 96-page book featuring archival imagery; articles by Robin Wood (film critic and author) and Mark Le Fanu (author of Mizoguchi and Japan); and a full reprint of an acclaimed translation of Mori Ogai's original 1915 story on which Sansho Dayu is based, Video discussions about both Sansho Dayu and Gion Bayashi by acclaimed Japanese film expert/critic, festival programmer, and filmmaker Tony Rayns, Original theatrical trailers.
SANSHO DAYU reaches back to a Japanese folk tale of the 12th century to depict the barbarism of 'a dark age, when people didn't know how to be human.' The film stars Yoshiaki Hanayagi as Zushiô, the young son of a provincial governor Masauji Taira (Masao Shimizu). A man of outstanding compassion and probity, he impresses on his son the notion that 'without mercy, a man is not a man.' When the governor's attempts to protect the rights of regional farmers clash with the goals of the feudal regime, he's sent into exile, and forced to leave his family behind. A few years later Zushio, his mother, Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaki), and sister, Anju (Kyoko Kagawa), begin a long journey to reunite with Masauji, only to be waylaid be kidnappers en route. The bandits sell Tamaki to a brothel on an isolated island and the children to corrupt official Sansho (Eitaro Shindo) as slaves. As the years pass, Anju lapses into passivity while Zushio becomes hardened by the brutality that has become their lot. One day, while escorting a dying slave outside the confines of their camp, they plan an escape. In what may be his finest film, the director again uses the great cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa (UGETSU), shooting scenes of the most intense emotion from a distance in long, magnificently composed sequence takes, suggesting the transience of all worldly suffering, and fulfilling the Nabokovian dictum of art as 'beauty plus compassion.'
In GION BAYASHI Ayako Wakao stars as Eiko, the 16-year-old daughter of a recently deceased geisha, who nonetheless harbours some romantic notions about what the profession entails. Miyoharu (Michiyo Kogure), an aging geisha, agrees to take on the younger woman, initiating her into the life. After a year of training, Eiko is prepared to make her debut, but in order to do so she must obtain a sizeable sum from Okimi, the madam who owns the teahouse from which she would operate. To provide the money, Okimi must get a loan from businessman Kusuda (Seizaburo Kawazu), a client of Miyoharu, who intends to trade the geisha in an illegal business deal, while retaining Eiko's services for himself. Although the geishas accompany the businessmen on their trip to Tokyo, they refuse to sleep with them, and Okimi, infuriated by their rebellion, refuses to use them. Ayako Wakao is superb in this sensitive, nuanced account of the relationship between women of different eras.