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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