Sansho the Bailiff Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyoko Kagawa Director: Kenji Mizoguchi The film: Although less well known outside Japan today than his contemporaries Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi was for a time the more successful of the three on the world stage. He won the Silver Lion at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in three consecutive years with The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), but after his death in 1956 fell off the global radar. Recently, however, he has been making something of a comeback, largely thanks to the Criterion Collection, which released Ugetsu in a comprehensive DVD package last year, and this month delivers the equally remarkable Sansho the Bailiff in a similar package. Based on a short story by Ogai Mori, which was in turn based on a centuries-old folktale, Sansho the Bailiff is set in the late Heian period (794-1185), a time when, according to the film's opening, 'mankind had not yet awakened as human beings', and slavery wasn't uncommon. The film opens with a flashback of a provincial governor being sent into exile for his liberal views, then moves forward to his wife (Mizoguchi regular and muse Kinuyo Tanaka), son Zushio and daughter Anju travelling on foot to meet him some years later. Along the way, the children are abducted and sold into slavery while the wife is carried off to a distant island to serve as courtesan to an evil nobleman. The character of Sansho plays a comparatively minor role in the film (in Japan this story is commonly known as The Legend of Zushio and Anju). It is to his manor that the children are taken, and where they grow into adulthood, awaiting their chance to escape what is a shockingly realised living hell, made all the more unnerving by the director's almost supernatural visual style. This is a morality tale, so comeuppance is delivered, although not to such a degree that anyone in the film can expect much in the way of a happy ending. The closest the film comes to a family reunion is as heartbreaking a series of moments as any to be found in Mizoguchi's work, and the film's closing scene is perhaps the most breathtaking of all. The extras: This is quite a generous package from Criterion. First up is a scholarly commentary by Japanese literature professor Jeffrey Angles, who discusses both at the film's background and at the history of the story and the way in which it has been adapted and developed over the years. Three interviews are also included: one with Kyoko Kagawa (10 minutes), who plays Anju, one with assistant director Tokuzo Tanaka (15 minutes) and a third with well-known Japanese film critic Tadao Sato (25 minutes). An 80-page book containing an essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu and two versions of the original story - Mori's 1915 work and the dictated text of an oral version that was given by a female shaman to a Japanese anthropologist in the 1930s.