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Cinema According to Víctor Erice

Thursday, June 25, 2015
7:30 p.m. Sansho the Bailiff
Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan, 1954)

(Sansho dayu). In eleventh-century Japan, two children are kidnapped and sold into slavery while their mother, Tamiki, withers away on a distant island, dreaming only of being reunited with them. After many years the son assumes his rightful post as provincial governor and sets about deposing the cruel bailiff who brought tragedy upon his family. As in Greek tragedy, this film’s distanced determinism vies with the direct engagement of the characters to affect the richest form of drama, a purity of emotion. In Mizoguchi, it has been noted, the long shot is as psychologically astute as the close-up. As Tamiki, Kinuyo Tanaka haunts; her presence is felt largely through her absence. Banished to an off-screen hell, she is nonetheless perceived, not as an apparition but as a feeling, like a voice carried by the wind.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Yoshikata Yoda, Fuji Yahiro, based on a story by Ogai Mori. Photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa. With Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyoko Kagawa, Kinuyo Tanaka, Eitaro Shindo. (126 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, BAM/PFA Collection, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)