Kenji Mizoguchi, with over 80 films in his 35-year career, is considered to be the master of Japanese cinema. "Sanshô Dayû", a period drama, won the Venice Golden Lion in 1954.
Set in medieval Japan, a compassionate governor is exiled for opposing the ruling lord. His wife Tamaki (Tanaka) and children Zushio and Anju set off to find him and are cruelly separated. Years later, under the guidance of the brutal tax collector Sansho (Shindô), Zushio has forgotten the teachings of his father and grown into a barbaric man. When stirred by a childhood memory, he is forced to question what he has become.
Mizoguchi's trademarks - long panning shots, high angles, and framing his subjects in the wider landscape - make his tale of tyranny, sacrifice, and salvation mesmerising to watch. In the harshest scenes, Mizoguchi opts for dignity and grace over histrionics and makes them all the more powerful, for example, a blanket of white mist rises between Tamaki and her children when they are betrayed and as Anju descends into the river, the camera stays focussed on the ripples of water. Mizoguchi stresses that such suffering is a part of nature and only a transitory moment in the wider scheme of things.
This is most poignant in the final moving scene where Mizoguchi offers no resolution. Yet, as the camera pans away from Zushio and Tamaki towards the beach and sea, there is the sense that the family are reunited spiritually.
A haunting and beautiful film.