Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Review:Sansho the Balif, by Kenji Mizoguchi


Photobucket

Director:

Kenji Mizoguchi

Mizoguchi (May 16, 1898 – August 24, 1956) is perhaps the most Japanese of Japan's great directors. Kurosawa was known for being influenced by the West, and Ozu known for being a Japanese purist mizoguchi was even more so."His films have an extraordinary force and purity. They shake and move the viewer by the power, refinement and compassion with which they confront human suffering."(Mark Le Fanu Mizoguchi and Japan, London: BFI Publishing, 2005, p.1) The story is written by Fuji Yahiro, Yoshikata Yoda.


Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Kinuyo Tanaka Kinuyo Tanaka ...
Tamaki
Yoshiaki Hanayagi Yoshiaki Hanayagi ...
Zushiô
Kyôko Kagawa Kyôko Kagawa ...
Anju
Eitarô Shindô Eitarô Shindô ...
Sanshô dayû
Akitake Kôno Akitake Kôno ...
Taro
Masao Shimizu Masao Shimizu ...
Masauji Taira
Ken Mitsuda Ken Mitsuda ...
Prime Minister Fujiwara
Kazukimi Okuni Kazukimi Okuni ...
Norimura
Yôko Kosono Yôko Kosono ...
Kohagi
Noriko Tachibana Noriko Tachibana ...
Namiji
Ichirô Sugai Ichirô Sugai ...
Minister of Justice
Teruko Omi Teruko Omi ...
Nakagimi
Masahiko Kato Masahiko Kato ...
Young Zushio
Keiko Enami Keiko Enami ...
Young Anju
Bontarô Akemi Bontarô Akemi ...
Kichiji

This is an extremely sad story, set in the Haien period of Japan.(794-1192) Oddly enough the Haien period is said to have been:

one of those amazing periods in Japanese history, equaled only by the later Tokugawa period in pre-modern Japan, in which an unprecedented peace and security passed over the land under the powerful rule of the Heian dynasty. Japanese culture during the Heian flourished as it never had before; such a cultural efflorescence would only occur again during the long Tokugawa peace. For this reason, Heian Japan along with Nara Japan (710-794) is called "Classical" Japan.
In the film, however, it says people weren't really human yet, they had not yet awakened to their humanity. The period is portrayed as brutal, with an economy based upon slavery. Apparently for some reason the Japanese see their own history that way. The story centers around a family whose father is appointed governor by the imperial court. He is eventually deposed and his wife and children must travel alone to join him. The father gave the son an idol of the goddess Guanyin. He tells the son that a human is not really without compassion and urges him to always show mercy. Of course the son is convinced of his father's greatness. He is eager to keep his teachings. The offer counters the abuse of military men who wish to go to war and is deposed form his office.

They journey through an area which is dangerously overrun by slavers. The mother, son (Zushiô ), daughter (Anju), and old female servant, try camping out because they can't find a place to stay. An old woman finds them and takes them in. He is only pretending to help them. She claims to have arranged their passage on a boat but when the mother gets on the boat first it leaves without the children. The children are sold into slavery on the main land and the mother on a small island off the coast.

From that point on ten years pass. The boy is now 23 and he's forgotten his father's teaching. The compound in which the brother and sister is a hell hole, it's a sweat shop ran by this old man called Sansho the Bailiff. The slaves are beaten, they work round the clock with little rest and penalty for escape is branding on the face. Zushio, now called Waka, has gained the trust fo the slavers by being willing to brand run away slaves who have been captured. Anju is appauled at her brother's attitude, she takes charge of the small goddess figure, the only keep sake of their former lives they still have. A new gril is brought to the compound and Anju is instructed to help learn her job. She finds the girl sining a song with their names in it, it talks about how life is torture and the persecution of th persona in the son is that of one betrayed an sold into slavery and separated from Zushio and Anju. Anju tries to find out who wrote the song, but the girl thinks it was a courtesan named "Nakagimi."

We are allowed to see the mother's life. She is a courtesan, who is constantly trying to run away. They cut her tendon so she can't run. Other courtesan's take her to the edge of a cliff everyday where she can hobble to the edge of the water and see the mainland, where her children are. She shouts to them across the water. She has no idea if they can hear or if they are even alive but she continues to do this just in case they get a small sound of her voice they might somehow come to her some day.

One day a woman at Sansho's compound is sick and dying. Because they trust Waka they send him to take the old woman out and dump her in the woods to die (the place is ran by Republicans). He brings his sister with him to help prepare the body for death. Another old woman is back at the fense not allowed to go with her but she shouts to the dying woman "be reincarnated in a good family! Be born to rich people in the next life." Waka has become hard and bitter. He preaches that only through serving the Bailiff and getting on his good side can one avoid being beaten and maybe gain a moment's rest. Once he's outside the compound they hear very faint voice in the distance carried across the waves, their mother's voice calling their names. The boy decides to run away. The sister gives him the idol and she stays to through them off track. They reason that two together would be caught but one by himself might make it. The plan is for him to go to the imperial temple near by and get help and find someway, perhaps through contacting the father, to come and get the daughter out and then find the mother.

Once the boy runs off and the other realize he's escaped, they say they are going to torture the sister to make her tell where she's gone. They are all running off into search parties and they leave an old woman to watch the girl. The old woman tells the girl to tie her up so she can flea and the woman wont be in trouble. The sister does this but he goes immediately to the water and drowns herself so that she can't be made to betray the brother. The search party winds up at the temple anyway, her sacrifice need not have been made. Nevertheless they don't find Zushio because the Abbot turns them away saying "this is an imperial temple and it's under the protection of the emperor and you have to right to be here, get lost," and so on. The son's plan is to go to the imperial adviser and try to illicit help. The priest is a friend of the adviser and so writes a letter beseeching the man for help for the young man.

At first Zushio is arrested and put in a sort of prison cell in a hut. He is treated harshly and they take the little idol figure. The next day, however, he's brought before the adviser who tells him that he is the one who gave the idol to the father in the first place. He knew the guy's father and admired him. His stand against the military was admirable. Even the father is not dead, the advised is determined to help. He appoints the son to his father's old post as adviser. He goes back and outlaws slavery in his Provence. He lacks the authority to confiscate slaves on private property but when Sansho's men, acting under his orders, tear down the posters proclaiming the outlawing of traffic in humans, he has a pretext and leads an army into the compound and arrests Sansho and exiles him. He is deeply saddened to learn that his sister is dead. He can't understand why she didn't have faith to wait for him. He realizes her sacrifice.

He then resigns his post because he's pursued a policy the adviser warned him against. The slave lobby was too powerful to mess with. Sansho has friends and will be back in power. At least he offers freedom to his slaves. They have a wild party in Sansho's great hall, tear the place apart and burn it down. It's hilarious to see them all getting drunk and tearing up all of the possessions of their former tormentor. Zushio offers them an opportunity to go home or stay there and work for pay. He himself leaves. He goes to find his mother on the island. He finds her sitting alone on a beach, blind, muttering to herself, singing her song about her children and how life is torture. At first she doesn't' believe it's him, she thinks it's a tormentor come to mock her. She realizes it's him when she feels the little idol of The goddess of mercy. The two of them are left there, they embrace and the son will care for the mother. The mother says he prevailed because he remembered his father's teachings.

This film is a cray against the prevailing spirit of our own age. It argues against the "look out for number one" mentality. It's not preaching, but the glimpse one get's a world totally dedicated to the worship of power and selfishness is sermon enough.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Federico Fillini's I Vitelloni


  photo 220px-Vitelloni_psoter_zps7382becf.jpg

Federico Fellini, "I Vitelloni-"1953. This a great film, it's a fine film and it occupies an important place in the history of art cinema. It's not like I've said before, of the Bresan film, eat your vegetables (watch a tedious film) so you can grow up to be a strong cinefile, this is more pleasurable to watch than that.

The major achievement of post war European cinema was Italian Neo-realism. This was the European answer to American film Noir. It preceded French "New Cinema." It's hall mark was the squalor of post war Italy, the dark earthy sets and dark earthy  women and degradation (such "the Bicycle Theif."  Fellini was to emerge from the 50's as one of Italy's most important film makers and one of the greats of world cenima. But in the early 50's he was still struggling with one  bomb after another. This film was no exception. It was a failure at the box office, but I think with it people began to notice him. It a mature attempt one upon which he worked very hard.

from Benny Thomas Weblog:
I Vitelloni or the young bulls is the third cinematic essay of Federico Fellini and it was a mature work as far as it reconstructed the trends of neorealism in his own personal idiom. At a time when critics tended to look at films dealing with postwar Italy from a Marxian point of view he was neither conservative nor reactionary. He was far too individualistic to look at social reality with labels. His mature films showed his heart was fully engaged in the creative process whether it dealt with social issues or his interior life.
In emerging to greatness Fillini would forsake Neo-realism  putting in place his own highly individualistic style. That would be both his glory and the greatest criticism of the critics. That process began with this film.

from IMBd page:

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Franco Interlenghi ...
Moraldo Rubini
Alberto Sordi ...
Alberto
Franco Fabrizi ...
Fausto Moretti
Leopoldo Trieste ...
Leopoldo Vannucci
Riccardo Fellini ...
Riccardo
Leonora Ruffo ...
Sandra Rubini (as Eleonora Ruffo)
Jean Brochard ...
Francesco Moretti
Claude Farell ...
Olga
Carlo Romano ...
Michele Curti
Enrico Viarisio ...
Signor Rubini
Paola Borboni ...
Signora Rubini
Lída Baarová ...
Giulia Curti (as Lida Baarowa)
Arlette Sauvage ...
La sconosciuta del cinema
Vira Silenti ...
Gisella
Maja Niles ...
Caterina (as Maja Nipora)

My Original Review:


The title means "the young bulls" it's a slang term they used in Itally at that time for what we might call "a red neck" or a "Yahoo." Young rural guys with noting better to do than cause trouble. they are not really mean but they just have noting better to do. They are basically rural working class play boys. They are from a small town in Italy. The film is autobiographical in that the one guy who actually get's up the guts to leave town is really based upon Fillini himself. He leaves in the last scene of this movie, headed for Rome.years latter in the 70s he did another film Called "Roma" that has that same guy (himself) getting off the train then it takes up with his early days in Rome trying to get established and make it.

The whole film revolves around a domestic problem between one of these young men and his new wife, who is expecting a child,and the child would have been born out of wedlock if the young man had not been forced to Marry her by his father. The father essentially beats him up because he was going to skip town. Most of the movie is not what you would call a comedy but it ends happily when the young guy realizes he loves the girl. The last quarter of the film is  about a mad dash around town trying to find her as she had gone missing, with the baby. He's desperate to find her, he spends all day looking, she seems to have vanished. I wont spoil it.

One funny situation in the film which was a true story from Fillini's life, they were driving along the road and saw men working. one of them sticks his head up through the sun roof and shout's "Hey workers," then something obscene, reinforced with a gesture. He does this for no real reason, he's like a big kid who doesn't work, parties all the time and has nothing better to do than make mischief. Just as he does this the car breaks down. they coast to a stop like 50 yards form the workers, who chase them down the road on foot trying to beat them up. They no match for working muscles.


This is a fine film if you watch films just for feeling it will leave a good feeling. If you watch films to be part of film history this one occuplies an important postion in film history. Italian Neo-realism is one of the great aspects that made films art and made the art film magic in this era (the silver age of the silver screen). Rules are meant to be broken, Fillini's departure from the genre is one of the triumphs of that era. We see the writing on the wall with this film. It's his first baby step toward his own highly individualistic style.