The 47 Ronin

I fi­nal­ly fin­ished watch­ing Genroku chushin­gu­ra [The 47 Ronin]. This film is con­sid­ered one of the clas­sic films of Japanese cin­e­ma and was di­rect­ed by the al­ways im­pres­sive Kenji Mizoguchi. The film was re­leased in 1942 and was com­mis­sioned by the Japanese gov­ern­ment to be a na­tion­al­ist rhetoric in fa­vor of war to re­al­ize Japanese su­prema­cy blah blah.

What Mizoguchi end­ed up giv­ing them was the last thing they ex­pect­ed I’d bet. The film is long- 222 min­utes- and moves so very slow­ly that I had to watch it in half hour in­cre­ments and then take a break. It is very Japanese. I might have missed it, but I can­not think of one in­stance in the en­tire film where there is phys­i­cal con­tact be­tween two peo­ple. Bushido is a cen­tral theme and rigid obe­di­ence and po­lite­ness are al­ways present. It was very hard for me to watch be­cause of this. The re­straint was so pal­pa­ble, at times I knew the char­ac­ters were hold­ing back the urge to em­brace [or would have been had they been Westerners]. Even when close friends com­mit hari-kiri, no one touch­es.

Oishi- the main char­ac­ter and cham­ber­lain of the Asano cas­tle at Ako- is the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of bushi­do. He is the per­fect samu­rai, sac­ri­fic­ing his en­tire life, his hon­or and even en­dan­ger­ing him­self po­lit­i­cal­ly in or­der to ex­act re­venge for his lord. He is al­so so very kind­heart­ed that the amount of willpow­er it must have tak­en him to be so stern is amaz­ing. I’ve nev­er seen such a mas­ter­ful­ly and enig­mat­i­cal­ly por­trayed char­ac­ter as Oishi. He de­mands re­spect from the au­di­ence. Although the film con­cerns it­self al­most whol­ly with vi­o­lence, there is no vi­o­lence in the film apart from one sword stroke in the first scene.

The film is ab­solute­ly beau­ti­ful to watch. It cuts rarely, most shots are long takes. I think, per­haps, that they on­ly cut when the mag ran out of film. The block­ing is al­so ex­quis­ite. The amount of things that can be done with tra­di­tion­al Japanese ar­chi­tec­ture pa­per doors, screens, open walls and all that let the cam­era move seam­less­ly from in­doors to out­doors and al­low the shot to change shape com­plete­ly with out the cam­era mov­ing at all. This is def­i­nite­ly a film worth see­ing. The dif­fi­cul­ty you might have watch­ing it, the pa­tience nec­es­sary; mir­rors quite ef­fec­tive­ly the dif­fi­cul­ty the ronin must have had in plan­ning their re­venge. I’m not sure if it was in­ten­tion­al, since this is so ob­vi­ous­ly a Japanese film, per­haps I am mere­ly feel­ing this since I am a Westerner, but it works any­way.

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