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Articles - CfP Topic

Vol. 9 No. 2 (2023): Here Be Dragons. East Asian Film and Religion

After Great Pain: The Uses of Religious Folklore in Kenji Mizoguchi’s SANSHO THE BAILIFF (JP 1954) and Kaneto Shindo’s ONIBABA (JP 1964)

March 14, 2023


This article studies the adaptations and applications of religious folklore in two masterworks of Japanese cinema: Kenji Mizoguchi’s SANSHO DAYU (SANSHO THE BAILIFF, JP 1954) and Kaneto Shindo’s ONIBABA (JP 1964). While academic approaches will often draw a strict line between narrative genres and discursive forms, these films, I argue, draw creatively from Japanese tradition for both critical and constructive purposes in the postwar context. Besides mounting trenchant criticisms of Japan’s erstwhile militaristic violence and imperial ambitions, both filmmakers present their respective female protagonists as models for spiritual and sociocultural transformation in the face of anomie. Embodying humanistic compassion on the one hand and ontogenetic eros on the other, the two women compose complementary poles for reconstruction amidst the painful aftermath of war.