Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Jp.) (aka Sanshô Dayû)

In Kenji Mizoguchi's very moving and sad drama (about a family torn apart) - set in medieval 11th century Japan during a time of warring social classes and rampant slavery and brutality ("an era when mankind had not yet awakened as human beings"):

  • a family in 11th century feudal Japan was comprised of the idealistic father Masauji Taira (Masao Shimizu), his wife Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka), their daughter Anju (Kyôko Kagawa) and his young son Zushiô (Yoshiaki Hanayagi)
  • the virtuous, humanitarian and compassionate feudal governor and father Masauji treated his peasant subjects fairly (and refused to overtax them)
  • before his ouster and exile, Masauji offered wise advice to his young son Zushio - along with a small golden statue-amulet representing the Goddess of Mercy, Kwannon: "Zushio, I wonder if you'll become a stubborn man like me. You may be too young to understand, but hear me out anyway. Without mercy, man is like a beast...Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others. Men are created equal. Everyone is entitled to their happiness"
Lakeside Seizure of the Family
  • the feudal governor was ousted, banished and exiled to a remote province for not enforcing the harsh tax laws (on rice) and the military draft; his aristocratic family embarked on a lengthy search for him; in a devastating sequence, the members of the family were separated during a lakeside seizure - tricked by a priestess and sold to the estate of Sanshô (Eitarô Shindô), a ruthless, cruel and corrupt bailiff, tax-collector and manager of a lordship's manor, who maintained a large slave contingent; the two children became indentured servants when sold into slavery, and the mother Tamaki was sold into prostitution on Sado Island
  • Sansho's sympathetic and kindly son Taro (Akitake Kôno) gave the two children new names to protect their identity: Mushu for Zushio, and Shinobu for Anju
  • a new slave girl in the household brought news of the mother (via an evocative song with the names of her children: "Zushio, how I long for you, Anju, how I long for you") - this confirmed that the mother (now a courtesan) was still alive; she had been given a new name, Nakagimi; it was learned that she had made many attempts to escape, so her captors were forced to cut her Achilles' tendons
  • while enslaved in the camp's compound, Anju/Shinobu retained her humanity, while Zushio/Mushu lost his compassion by mercilessly punishing and executing other slaves and becoming one of Sansho's enforcers; Zushio neglected his father's advice as he became a barbaric henchman for Sansho and carried out murder and torture (branding the foreheads of attempted escapees with a hot sword) of other slaves
  • the use of sound joined together the mother and her now-grown children when she realized her children were still alive ten years later; she called to them from a hilltop: "Zushio...Anju!"
  • in a tragic scene, the two children were ordered to take a sick slave girl into the woods to die, and they decided to make an escape attempt; Anju persuaded Zushio to flee with the sick female, while she self-sacrificially drowned herself (off-screen) in a lake (to avoid capture and torture - "Isn't life torture?"); she created a diversion to save her brother by not revealing his location, by slowly walking into deepening water; her death was symbolized only by peaceful ripples on the lake's surface
The Self-Sacrificial Drowning of Anju/Shinobu
  • Zushio successfully escaped and hid out in a monastery before appealing for mercy to the Emperor's Chief Advisor in Kyoto; after being recognized as the son of a once-respected governor, Zushio was reinstated to the position; now elevated and converted, he was determined to criminalize slavery and fight against injustice; during a nihilistic sequence, the former slaves revolted and burned down Sanshô's manor, and exiled the nefarious bailiff; later, Zushio resigned his governorship and was determined to locate his mother
  • in the film's catharctic ending, after twenty years, Zushio and his hobbled, half-mad mother (now aged, lame and blind, and with a shattered life) were tearfully reunited on the tsunami-devastated beach of the island of Sado; he heard his mother's singing - at first she didn't believe he was her son, but did identify him by using her fingers to trace the shape of his face; then she was saddened to hear when he revealed that both Anju and her husband were dead: "It's just you and I. We're all alone now"
  • Zushio claimed that he had finally adopted his father's teachings: "I could have come for you as a governor, but I gave up my title in order to follow Father's teachings. Please, Mother, forgive me!" - she responded: "What nonsense do you speak of? I don't know what you have done, but I know that you followed your Father's teachings. And that is why we have been able to meet again"

Governor and Father Masauji Offering Advice and a Small Statue to His Young Son Zushio: ("Without mercy, man is like a beast...")

Ruthless, Cruel, and Corrupt Bailiff Sanshô (Eitarô Shindô)

The Mother Calling For Her Now-Grown Children

Zushio Tearfully Reunited With His Enslaved, Half-Mad Mother

Zushio to His Mother: "It's just you and I"


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