Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

Sansho the Bailiff


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Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

Set in 11th-century Japan, this film tells the story of a family that is broken apart when the father is exiled. When the mother and children set out to look for him, they are ambushed by kidnappers who sell the mother as a prostitute and the two children as slaves.

Rating: Unrated
Genre: Art House & International, Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Fuji Yahiro, Yoshikata Yoda
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 13, 1997
Criterion Collection


as Tamaki

as Sansh˘ dayű

as Masauji Taira

as Prime Minister Moroz...

as Priestess

as Minister of Justice

as Zushio as a Boy

as Zushio as an Infant

as Anju as a Girl

as Ritsushi Kumotake

as Kaikudo Naiko

as Masasue Taira

as Manager of a Brothel

as The Other Nakagimi
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Sansho the Bailiff

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (3)

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 21, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

a film of surpassing, transcendent wisdom and beauty.

Full Review… | June 7, 2013
Film Freak Central

It illuminates the human condition and gives you plenty of time to think. It is the nature of nature to show no mercy, but mercy is inherent to the nature of human beings, even when it seems buried under loads of suffering.

Full Review… | April 15, 2013

Mizoguchi is the poet laureate of Japanese cinema, gracefully exploring the battered but resilient souls in the cruel worlds of Japan's feudal past and present.

Full Review… | March 23, 2013
Parallax View

Audience Reviews for Sansho the Bailiff

A really beautiful, simple movie. Not my absolute favorite Mizoguchi but still freaking great. Brilliant acting and stunningly rich black and white cinematography. Set in the Heian period, during 11th century, well before most Japanese historical dramas.

Bob Stinson

Super Reviewer

One of the greatest accomplishments in the history of film, concerning a family torn apart after the father, a governor, is exiled due to sticking to his morals, and how the rest of his family is sold into slavery and prostitution after attempting to find him. A damning display of slavery and a heroic tale of perseverance, there isn't an inch of pretentiousness to 'Sansho', more so a delicate simplicity that makes its points very well and never loses focus on its overarching message of honesty and integrity are two of the most important traits we as humans should possess. Almost unbearable to watch at times just because of how disturbing the conditions these slaves have to work under are, but there is always a ray of light at the end of the tunnel that takes form in the second half of the film with splendid, moving results. A dynamite, important film.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer


Kenji Mizoguchi's 1954 film "Sansho the Bailiff" is positively Dickensian in it's measure of human suffering, although it is apparently an old japanese fable about the virtues of mercy and compassion. When the governor of a province refuses to crack down and execute some protestors, he and his family are exiled. His wife and children are separated from him, and on their way to re-join the father they are abducted by slave traders and sold into slavery. The mother is sold to a brothel and the brother and sister are sold to Sansho the bailiff, who is overseer of the mansion belonging to the Minister of the right. Conditions for slaves there are deplorable, but the children must bide their time if they ever want to escape back to their parents. The story is quite a tear-jerker, and undoubtably a crowd pleaser with it's injustices being shown up in the end by the virtues of compassion and mercy. It's quite poignant to say the least (and I'm sure if Charles Dickens were asian and alive in the 1950s, I'm sure he'd say the same thing).

Mr Awesome
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

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