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THE LOYAL 47 RONIN (CHUSHINGURA) (1958)
Published by David Carter on 2009/9/15 (1525 reads)
Directed by Kunio Watanabe
Review by David Carter
Released by AnimEigo
Running Time: 166 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Stereo Japanese/English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
16:9 Enhanced: No
Special Features: Image gallery, program notes, bios
Trailer Online: No
Short Version: The definitive version of the Japanese classic
The story of the 47 Ronin is one of Japanâ€™s most frequently adapted stories because of how deeply it resonates with the Japanese national character. Vengeance for honorâ€™s sake seems as if it would run counter to the strict rules of feudal Japanese society, yet the roninâ€™s story illustrates that it is the universal concepts behind those practices â€“ and not the rituals themselves â€“ that have the primacy in the culture. Of the myriad of film versions of the tale, AnimEigoâ€™s recent release THE LOYAL 47 RONIN, aka CHUSHINGURA, is one of the most faithful and dramatic retellings of the story.
Those of you familiar with Japanese history or cinema will already know the tale, but for the sake of the uninitiated here is a brief rundown of the events that span several years and over two and a half hours of THE LOYAL 47 RONIN. Young daimyo Asano is ignorant of the proper etiquette for hosting court officials, so when his small fief is set to receive an envoy from Edo he turns to the elder Lord Kira for instruction. Kira is known throughout Japan for his rude, haughty demeanor, but Asano knows the value of appearances so he takes Kiraâ€™s jabs in stride, even when it becomes evident that Kira is purposefully misleading him in an attempt to humiliate him. When Kiraâ€™s insults continue even after the envoy has arrived, Asano finally reaches his breaking point, drawing his sword and attacking Kira.
Drawing oneâ€™s sword in the royal residence is a grave offense and Asano is forced to commit seppuku to atone for his crime. His family is stripped of all their titles and possessions and his deeply loyal samurai become ronin. Asanoâ€™s chief adviser Oishi blames Kira for the disgrace his lord has suffered and begins an elaborate plot for revenge with some of his fellow samurai. Their plot takes over a year of gathering materials, making contacts with Kiraâ€™s enemies, and living in secrecy but once the plan is put into motion, the remaining 47 ronin walk out of the shadows and into the pages of history.
THE LOYAL 47 RONIN puts an emphasis on the dramatic aspects of the story, spending as much time on the lives of the participants as it does on their revenge plot. A large sampling of the characters on both sides of the feud are investigated fully; we are shown their home lives, how they fit into the revenge plot, and even much of their dealings separate from the plan to avenge Asano. The technique is a double-edged sword for the film. On the one hand, one gets a far better sense of who these men are and the sacrifices they made to achieve their goal, giving a far greater emotional weight to the inevitable climactic battle. However the multitude of subplots makes the wait for the catharsis of Kiraâ€™s comeuppance seem almost unbearable at times; often killing any momentum that the film gains.
THE LOYAL 47 RONIN was made to be an epic spectacle film in the mold of BEN HUR and the like and it certainly succeeds in that regard. The amount of time spent on the events leading up to Asanoâ€™s attack on Kira helps frame the events in a different light than some versions; making Asano seem even more sympathetic and honorable. While close to three hours of period drama may appear to be daunting it moves fairly quickly, much to the filmâ€™s credit.
THE LOYAL 47 RONIN is an all-around excellent film with the only downside being its excessive running time. The performances, set design, and pacing are all brilliant, however, so it is worth the effort even if you have to watch the film in stages. AnimEigo has released the film on an excellent DVD with a crisp, vivid print that makes it hard to believe the film was released some fifty years ago. Fans of samurai cinema wanting something more than mere hack-and-slash will find the heart and brains of THE LOYAL 47 RONIN to be exactly what they have been seeking.
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