Home > Film, Reviews > DVD Review: Sansho Dayu + Gion Bayashi Duluxe Edition Twin-Pack

DVD Review: Sansho Dayu + Gion Bayashi Duluxe Edition Twin-Pack

Kenji Mizoguchi is one of the most revered Japanese filmmakers of all-time!

Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu and Gion Bayashi are paired in the first of four double-bill releases in the Masters of Cinema Series released by Eureka. And both films reflect the mastery of one the most accomplished filmmakers of Japanese cinema.

Sansho Dayu (1954)

Based on a novel by Mori Ogai, Sansho Dayu is regarded by many to be Mizoguchi’s finest magnum opus and is often considered one of the greatest films of all-time.

Set in 11th century Japan, the world of a noblewoman, Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka), and her two children, Zushio (Masahiko Kato) and Anju (Keiko Enami), is torn apart after they are forcibly separated by slave traders; Tamaki is put into prostitution and Zushio and Anju are sold into slavery. The main narrative focuses on Zushio and Anju’s journey into adulthood at a time of social injustice when much of Japan was still inhumane and the suffering they inevitably endure as they try  to reunite with their mother.

Although much of the brutality, such as the brazing of a woman, takes place off screen, the implications of cruelty are nevertheless disturbing.  But the awful events that take place are made bearable only by Miyagawa Kazuo’s gorgeous black and white photography and Mizoguchi’s trademark technique, the long-shot, which is exquisitely applied throughout resulting in the film being a visual masterpiece.

While the story of Sansho Dayu is a tragic one, the viewer is not left feeling despondent but rather in awe of a master whose skill as a director is unprecedented.

Reversible sleeve

Gion Bayashi (1953)

Gion Bayashi takes place in post war Japan at a time when traditional values were being tested by modern ideals and concerns the lives of two independent women from different generations.

A sixteen year-old orphan called Eiko arrives in Kyoto looking for her deceased mother’s friend Miyoharu in the hope of being trained as a geisha, the profession her mother followed. Miyoharu is reluctant at first to take Eiko in as the training is intensive and requires much commitment, but she is soon persuaded by the young girl’s desperate plea and determination and takes her under her wing. The cost of her training will be excessive so Miyoharu turns to Okimi, a highly-regarded female restaurant manager, for a loan whom sequentially borrows the money from one of her rich male clients. But unbeknown to Eiko, there are strings attached.

Like all of Mizoguchi’s films Gion Bayashi is character driven and seen from the woman’s perspective in a male dominated society.  Prostitution features in many of Mizoguchi’s films, including the two presented here, and something he was very much familiar with being a regular visitor to a number of pleasure districts. He understood women and had much sympathy for them, which is clearly demonstrated in Gion Bayashi (aka Gion Festival Music) where the main empathise is on personal values.

Although the overall script is much more simplistic than that of Sansho Dayu, Gion Bayashi is nonetheless a film that is accurate and honest and a perfect representation of the world of geisha. Mizoguchi’s attention to detail is unquestionable and the film works as a great documentation on the attire and training of a maiko (apprentice geisha). And while it is inevitable that Gion Bayashi will be compared to Mizoguchi’s earlier film Sisters of Gion (1936), and makes for a decent discussion, any comparisons between this over-looked classic and Memoirs of a Geisha is just a waste of time.

Sansho Dayu is indisputably a masterpiece of cinema with outstanding performances from all of its casts, but this fact should not over-shadow or diminish the excellence of Gion Bayashi; they should equally be appreciated and enjoyed for their own unique brilliance.  Both films are released on DVD for the first time in the UK and are invaluable to any serious film collector.

A scene from Gion Bayashi (Courtesy of Eureka! Entertainment)

Special Features

This deluxe edition twin-pack comes lavishly packaged with a reversible sleeve illustrating reproductions of the original Japanese posters, an 80-page booklet that includes many stills and behind-the-scenes photographs, many with Mizoguchi, as well as full cast and crew credits, a conversation with Mizoguchi first published in 1937, a full reprint of an acclaimed translation of Mori Ogai’s original 1915 story on which Sansho Dayu was based, an article by film critic Robin Wood, and extracts from the book Mizoguchi and Japan by Mark Le Fanu; one of the few books published on the life and work of the great man.  Special features on the discs include restored high-definition transfers, original trailers with English subtitles and video discussions with filmmaker and critic Tony Rayns.

Released by Eureka! Entertainment Ltd

This twin-pack edition is the third of four double-bill releases from the Masters of Cinema Series.

Review first published on Subtitled Online

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Categories: Film, Reviews

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