4.0 out of 5 stars Loyalty
Based on actual events, the story of the loyal 47 ronin is probably the most dramatized story in Japanese theatrical tradition. Appearing originally as a bunraku puppet play, it was soon followed by a fantastically successful Kabuki adaptations and more than eight cinematic versions. Its enduring popularity is based on the core Japanese values it represents; loyalty to a superior, at the cost of all things including life, love and personal happiness. Like the Western King Arthur and Robin Hood, the 47 ronin have passed from history to legend.
This version, “Chushingura” (Full Japanese title is “Chushingura: Hana no maki yuki no maki,”) is a sprawling 3 hour epic from the Japanese master of legendary films. Director Hiroshi Inagaki, probably best known in the West for his 3-film Miyamoto Musashi masterpiece “Samurai I,II and III,” brings his unique eye to the familiar story, blending a quiet human touch into the massive picture. He has assembled the all-stars of the Japanese chambara (“swordfight”) genre. Tatsuya Mihashi (“Tora Tora Tora,”) Takashi Shimura (“Seven Samurai,”) Yuzo Kayama (“Red Beard”) and of course Toshiro Mifune (“Seven Samurai,” “Yojimbo,” too many films to mention…), each name on the roster is one of the best, each with at lease on Kurosawa-credit on their resume, if not more.
The story unfolds at a long, dense pace, leaving you wondering along the way which of Lord Asano’s 60-plus samurai will remain loyal, and which will give into fear. By no means is this an action film, but a didactic tale stuffed with politics and the disintegrating nature of modernization and the loss of traditional morality and ethics. However, the film is a long slow fuse, building to the dynamite that is the rightful vengeance of the loyal 47. The final battle in the snow is a beautiful ballet of swords and blood.
Unfortunately, the DVD does not live up to the promise of the movie. It is a bare bones disk, with a decent widescreen presentation and nothing else. Due to the historical and important nature of “Chushingura,” there is room for so much more. However, beggars can’t be choosers, and having the movie alone is a treat. Maybe someday a better release will come along, but until then it is enough to watch the unfolding drama of 47 men willing to die for what they believe in.