Sancho The Bailiff (1954)
Genre: Period Drama (Japan)
Starring: Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyoko Kagawa (Korusawa's Heaven And Hell, Mothra)
Directed By: Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu; The 47 Ronin)
Overview: When a governor is exiled, his family sets off to meet him, but instead are hijacked and separated, the children sold into slavery.
Acting: If you've ever seen a Medieval Japanese film (pretty much anything Korusawa ever did), then you'll find the fond familiarity of the melodramatic acting those films are fond of. Sadly, I don't know nearly enough about Noh Theater or Kabuki to figure out the roots of why the Japanese period pieces of the 50s are all so similar in their melodrama, but the point is that you have to know this is being done on purpose. Regardless, this film doesn't even do it all that often. Sadness is wonderfully conveyed when done like an Italian Mourning Ceremony...
Cinematography: Going in, I knew to expect one of the most beautiful films ever directed by this man. If fishing boats and slave camps with cameras occasional rule of thirds is 'incredible beauty', perhaps I'm jaded by such things as 50 more years of film history, or such marvels as 'colour'. I was disappointed at how mediocre this was compared to my expectations. It was excellent, rich and calculated, but a masterpiece of light it was not.
Script: Sometimes you know going in that a story will be well written. Take a Korusawa-like tale of medieval Japan, throw in some noble birthright and major injustice and it pretty much writes itself. A smattering of lessons deep enough for Buddha to scratch his chin over doesn't hurt either which this all has. What isn't fun is when such a story is translated by a 15-year-old Swedish exchange student. Yeah, pain in your temples... Pun intended.
Plot: The story is simple enough: family with future ahead of them gets screwed and pine for years in hopes that their day of freedom will come. People change along the way, revelations and reawakenings must come to pass, and risk of failure is great. This isn't some stupid escape from the slave camp thriller, it goes far deeper, and with an end that will satisfy, Sancho touches the soul of slavery, rather than some elaborate plan at evasion.
Mood: I can't say that this is a film I would call 'engrossing'. I felt that some scenes could have been done better, more thought out or less trite, and perhaps that stems from having seen so many other films to compare to. Still, I don't think I'm jaded enough to have become so blasé that I don't hear the plight of a slave who once had the potential of being a great leader. Perhaps it just didn't deliver like it should have, save that majestic ending.
Overall Rating: 78% (File This Under 'Decent')
Aftertaste:Why the title is merely the name of a secondary character is a little beyond me. I'm still debating, but titles lose something in translation time to time. I began looking into this director's career, hoping that he would be my next F.W. Murnau, completely ready to dig and scrounge for endless hours in hopes of finding this man's subdued genius...
Nah. I'll do something else, thanks.