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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