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System Administrator Wednesday May 18, 2016

In the light of the recent stand-off between the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), who are battling for their curatorial independence, and the city of Busan, that is demanding greater control by the state; we pay tribute to the work of the BIFF, in particular, the publication of Asian Cinema 100 in October 2015. The book lists 100 important Asian films compiled by international film critics on the occasion of the BIFF’s 20th anniversary. The face-off began in 2014 when BIFF screened the documentary, Diving Bell (The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol by Lee Sang-ho and Anh Hae-ryong) that was critical of the government’s poor handling of the rescue operations of the Sewol ferry tragedy that killed 304 people. The mayor’s office and other politicians objected to the festival’s selection of the film. The freedom of expression requires that a festival be curatorially independent. This is the final of five reviews from the book. You can read about the book at www.biff.kr. By Philip Cheah.




 In the light of today’s renewed interest in Buddhism, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho The Bailiff (1954), one of the last six films made before his death, can be viewed through a fresh spiritual, aesthetic prism. After all, the tale of a pair of siblings sold into slavery, a mother taken away to a life as a prostitute, and a father, disgraced as a rebellious governor who cared too much for his people, and dies in exile; is essentially a Buddhist parable of idealism and compassion.

Based on Mori Ogai’s novel that drew from a popular Buddhist folk tale orally transmitted, most likely, by itinerant beggars in medieval times, the novel tempered the cruelty of the original tale. In his version, Mizoguchi’s film adds a political realism to the tale in explaining the disgraced governor’s role of opposing the military government, by not allowing his peasant people to be recruited for the army.

As he explains to his children, Zushio and his younger sister, Anju: “Without mercy, man is like a beast. Men are created equal and everyone is entitled to their happiness.” In one fell swoop, Mizoguchi introduces Buddhist compassion and democratic idealism.


Much has been made of Mizoguchi being in the vanguard of the early ’50s trend in Japanese cinema to make historical films. Is it any wonder that the film is situated in the late Heian period (11th-12th Century), the height of Buddhism in Japan but also historically, the rise of the military class?

Yet Mizoguchi is self-conscious of the fairy tale elements of the story when the adult Zushio returns to free the slaves held by Sansho the Bailiff. The character of Sansho gets to play his only pivotal role, when he scoffs: “A slave becoming a governor! That’s a true fairy tale.”

From this point, we are reminded again that the film’s power comes from its Buddhist aesthetics, and NOT its politics. The gentle ripples of the lake caused by Anju’s suicide, the towering trees constantly sheltering the peasant folk and the final scene when Zushio reunites with his mother are all acts of conscious contemplation.

As the renowned film critic, Tadao Sato, wrote: “Mizoguchi found a way to depict love scenes through Buddhism. In art, the discovery of a particular pose or form is the same as discovering its meaning. Precisely because art is a ceaseless discovery of form, discovering the spirit of the form is an act of creation. If the last scene in Sansho the Bailiff is imbued with such meaning for us, for Mizoguchi it must have been a moment of beatitude. And for me, it was a moment of spiritual awakening, a reflection of Mizoguchi’s understanding.” Mizoguchi died in 1956, a fervent Buddhist.

International Women's Day

We are pleased to bring to you, for the second year, our International Women’s Day screening!

Free online screening | 8th March

IWD theme this year is #ChooseToChallenge. A challenged world is an alert world. From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge - Ubolsyn herself completely embraces the theme!

This year we invite you to a special free online screening of ULBOLSYN from director Adilkhan Yerzhanov. Our sincere thanks to the producers, Guillaume de Seille and Olga Khlasheva, for their generosity and their efforts in facilitating the screening.

Ulbolsyn Source Poffdotee

The film tells the story of a girl named Ulbolsyn (Kazakh for ‘let there be a son’) whose little sister Azhar is kidnapped by the regional mayor’s brother Urgen for marital purposes and taken away to his village. Ulbolsyn wants her sister to be free and to enter her into a foreign university so that she can pursue a future career. As soon as she learns about the incident, Ulbolsyn decides to fight for her sister and face down the patriarchal world of the people living in the Karatas village.

The film is the recipient of the NETPAC Award in Tallinn Black Nights and TRT award in CineLink Sarajevo WIP 2020

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