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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Japanese PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary by Japanese-literature professor Jeffrey Angles
  • Video interviews with critic Tadao Sato, assistant director Tokuzo Tanaka, and legendary actress Kyoko Kagawa, on the making of the film and its lasting importance

Sansho the Bailiff

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Kenji Mizoguchi
Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayaki, Kyoko Kagawa, Masao Shimizu,
| Minutes | Licensor: Kadokawa Herald Pictures

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #386
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 26, 2013
Review Date: April 21, 2013

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SYNOPSIS

When an idealistic governor disobeys the reigning feudal lord, he is cast into exile, his wife and children left to fend for themselves and eventually separated by vicious slave traders. Under the dazzling direction of Kenji Mizoguchi, this classic Japanese story became one of cinema's greatest masterpieces, a monumental, empathetic expression of human resilience in the face of evil.

Forum members rate this film 8.3/10

 

Discuss the film and DVD here   


PICTURE

Kenji Mizoguchiís Sansho the Bailiff receives a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer is delivered in 1080p/24hz.

We get a noticeable improvement over the DVD (like the lack of window-boxing around the frame,) though itís not as significant as I would have hoped, and that probably has to do with the fact theyíre simply reusing the same high-definition transfer that was the basis for the DVD. The Blu-ray improves over the DVD in all of the basic ways one would expect: the transfer is sharper, compression isnít as big a concern (though I thought it still looked a tad noisy in places,) the image certainly looks far more natural and filmic, grain looks a bit more natural, and gray levels and shadow details are better.

But the DVD didnít look that bad to begin with, and upscaled it looked pretty decent. The image is still a bit soft around the edges, probably more of a factor with the source materials than the transfer, and it doesnít look like any additional clean-up has been done; it still presents a few tram line, some dust and dirt, and transition scenes can still look horrifically beat up. As mentioned before gray levels are better, but like the DVDís presentation I found the image had a more silver-ish look, though this could be intentional. I had only seen the film previously on Criterionís DVD so I canít say for sure.

So since itís the same transfer the same issues there previously are still there. Obviously it will depend on oneís set-up but the improvements over the DVD, while still noticeable, arenít as significant as other Blu-ray upgrades from Criterion.

7/10

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AUDIO

The film gets a lossless upgrade in a linear PCM 1.0 mono track, but Iíll admit I couldnít find too much of a difference. Itís a bit sharper and volume levels are up a bit but itís still limited by issues that are there and were obvious in the DVD. Music is still screechy and edgy in places, especially when it gets louder, and voices sound a little hollow and lifeless. Despite this, though, itís been cleaned up nicely and, like with the DVD, I didnít detect any significant damage or background noise.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion has carried everything over, including the thick booklet, starting with an audio commentary by Japanese-literature scholar Jeffrey Angles. It may seem a little odd to have a literature scholar for a film (or at least, initially, I admit to finding it odd) though it proves to work in this case as he provides a large background on the original folk tale and the story by Ogai Mori, and how Mizoguchi has translated the film here. He talks about the stylistic choices made by the director to further enhance the story, the many changes he made, and Mizoguchiís desire for the story to focus on the time periodís use of slavery (I canít remember if itís mentioned here but elsewhere in the supplements itís mentioned that Mizoguchi was forced to focus less on this aspect by the studio.) Angles is well prepared and though I assume he is using notes it never sounds like heís simply reading from them. Despite being dry in a few places it offers a wonderful look at the story, the adaptation here, and Japanese literature in general. A fine scholarly track.

Criterion then includes a few interviews starting with Performance, which presents an interview with actress Kyoko Kagawa. For 10-minutes the actress talks about her early work and then the character she plays in Sansho. From here she then talks a bit more about what it was like to work with Mizoguchi, who never really told her what to do, but expected her and others to reflect on their characters.

The 15-minute segment entitled Production presents assistant director Tokuzo Tanaka recalling his work on the film. He explains his duties and how it was approaching the director with suggestions or issues that had come up. He also talks a bit about the film, which he doesnít consider Mizoguchiís best. He also brings up how the studio forced the director to tone down the slavery aspect and amp up the brotherís and sisterís struggle, so the film isnít entirely what Mizoguchi intended.

Simplicity is the final segment, delivering a 24-minute interview with Japanese film critic Tado Sato. He first talks about Mizoguchiís films as a whole, particularly the social themes and their depiction of women. He then talks specifically about Sansho the Bailiff and the stories that were the basis of it before talking about his style which consisted of lengthy takes (and the slight movements of the camera to more or less keep the scene interesting) and how he worked with actors, again bringing up how Mizoguchi wanted his actors to ďreflect.Ē

In all we get a short batch of interviews, but they all offer great value to the release about Mizoguchiís work method with a couple of firsthand accounts.

Considering the high regard of the film I would have admittedly expected more disc content but Criterion steps it up a bit and adds a rather lengthy 80-page booklet. It starts with a lengthy essay by Mark Le Fanu and is then followed by two representations of the story that the film is based on: Sansho the Steward by Ogai Mori (and translated by J. Thomas Rimer) and then An Account of the Life of the Deity of Mount Iwaki, which is a translation of the one of the original folk tales.

Overall itís still not the edition I would have expected for the highly regarded film but Criterion has put some solid supplements together focusing on the original tale and the adaptation.

7/10

CLOSING

It looks more natural and presents less compression in comparison to the DVD, and the Blu-ray also lacks the window-boxing found on the DVD, but the improvements are more subtle than significant so its ultimately up to those that already purchased the DVD as to whether the upgrade is worth it. For those that donít yet own the film but do want to the disc comes recommended.


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