Day 186: Sansho Dayu 1954 + Sansho the Bailiff

Sansho Dayu 1954

This is the second of the two Mizoguchi films that feature in the 100 Greatest Films list. Just about to press play. Two nights ago was Ugetsu Monogatari (1953). Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the film before it, also considered a masterpiece, The Life of Oharu (1952)

Sansho the Bailiff

This is, experientially for me, like Persona, and Tokyo Story, Mulholland Drive and 2001: A Space Odyssey: one of the best films I have ever seen. I can’t explain why or present an argument (right now) justifying the statement, but it has had an emotional and psychological charge that somehow satisfactorily lets the melodrama, restrained compared with unrestrained melodrama, unfold with a mostly dispassionate presentation of what happens. Then there’s the end, which is tragic and then simultaneously tragically happy and joyously sad. The restraint in the previous 118 minutes meant that I was able to accept an ending which was more emotional in its conclusion than anything before it, without feeling like I’d been served a happy end, nicely wrapped up and packaged and given to me as a present. What happens is beautifully unpacked and revealed:

There is no happy ending. In fact, it is just a less unhappy ending than where it was heading at the 116-minute mark.