Renowned by postwar scholars, "The 47 Ronin" is director Kenji Mizoguchi's (Ugetsu) poetic and complex retelling of the classic Japanese legend. Unseen in America until the 1970s, "The 47 Ronin" is a visually stunning work... more » based on "Mayama Chushingura," a cerebral play dealing with the tale of the loyal samurai.« less
Charles S. Tashiro | Agoura Hills, CA USA | 09/28/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It is unfortunate that the only film by the incomparable Kenji Mizoguchi available on DVD should be the 47 RONIN. While not terrible, and in some ways interesting, it is nowhere near the quality of such masterworks as UGETSU or SANSHO THE BAILIFF. Painfully slow, stylized to the point of abstract, far too long, THE 47 RONIN feels more like a rough draft than a finished film. Despite its subject, it is unlikely to please anyone wanting an action-packed samurai film. It will also disappoint Mizoguchi enthusiasts.Mizoguchi is best known for his combination of the "one-shot, one scene" shooting method (in which most scenes are staged in a single, uncut shot) with a ravenously beautiful sense of composition. Some of this visual flair appears in 47 RONIN. When Lord Asano commits hari-kiri, for example, the camera moves to a high angle looking down on the enclosed space, while one of his loyal vassals weeps outside the closed gate. Or when the wife of Chamberlain Oishi, the leader of the ronin, leaves him with their two youngest children, the camera sits in a typically understated Mizoguchi long shot, Oishi standing helplessly alone and motionless in mid-ground, his wife and children disappearing into a forest in the background, his eldest son running laterally across the frame. It is a heart rending image of loss. But unlike the director's best work, in which you're carried from one exquisite image to the next on a tide of volcanic, nearly unbearable feeling, these moments are isolated, emotional islands in a sea of stiff, almost inert scenes. In top form, Mizoguchi moves you beyond tears. Your throat goes dry and you can barely breathe for the intensity of feeling. Here, there's no release and barely any build up. As just one example the most important moment, when the ronin finally get their revenge on Lord Kira, occurs off-camera. It's almost as if Mizoguchi were *trying* to keep us removed.If you have never seen a Mizoguchi film and would like to, you might want to rent one of his other titles on VHS. If you're thinking of buying the disc for the sake of having the 47 RONIN in your collection, I still don't recommend it, since the transfer is mediocre, made from damaged, sometimes soft visual elements and a wobbly, variable soundtrack. If you just want to have a Mizoguchi DVD, I suggest you wait until Criterion (hopefully) releases UGETSU and SANSHO THE BAILIFF."
The Real Shogun
megumi | Los Angeles | 01/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie, made at the beginning of World War II, recalls the famous historical story of the revenge of the Ako ronin for their Lord's maltreatment at the hands of both the Shogunate and the wicked daimyo,Lord Kira, who continued to insult him and lie about him to the Shogun. Lord Asano's seppuku had been ordered by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the shogun, for drawing steel inside the palace, which Lord Asano did only after the most dire of insults by Lord Kira, including suggesting that Lord Asano ask his wife to sleep with the Imperial envoys in order to win an appointment that Tsunayoshi wanted for his mother. The insult was not only that Kira had driven Asano to this point, but that Kira was not also ordered to commit seppuku. The continued scheming by that scoundrel, Yanigasawa rounds out the plot. This stirring call to remember the greatness of shogunate Japan, particularly during a period (17th C)in which Japan was closed to the outside world was a clear message to the Japanese people during WWII--a message that was clear to them. There is a later (1962) version of the story which is somewhat more accessible to non-Japanese. There is a current (1999) 48-episode serial by Japanaese TV, NHK, which has many top Japanese stars including the top Kabuki actor in the main role of Oishi Kuranosuke. Whichever version you see, the story is incredibly stirring in it's attention to the loyalty of the 47 faithful ronin who endured incredible hardship--including risking the deaths of their families--to avenge Lord Asano's unjust death. Knowing a bit of Japanese history of the period is a good background to understanding the nuances."
Window on another World
Master Jaques | London, England, UK | 01/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, if it's Samurai action you're after - give this masterpiece a miss! What you get instead is an absorbingly quiet, thoughtful contemplation on the conflicting demands of the rules of law, society and human nature. Violence is distanced, stylised - and largely absent (amazing in a wartime propaganda work!)In pure cinematic terms "47 Ronin" is incredibly beautiful to watch, shot in immensely long takes that establish a natural, breathing rhythm over the whole of its huge length. It is also wonderfully well acted by Mizoguchi's huge cast. The spartan design is very satisfying, presenting us Westerners with a fascinating 'other' world secure and perfect in its own clear hierarchies and customs. The conflict between personal loyalty and the law is rendered with beautiful clarity.In some ways, although this is not the first Mizoguchi film I'd recommend to newcomers to his art, it may be the purest, most pared-down of all his works - surprising considering its extraordinary length! Although the print is not great, this DVD still represents good value at the price and is recommended."
Compare and Contrast
Samurai Girl | Michigan | 04/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Compare and contrast two interesting versions of the same story: "Chushingura" by Inagaki to Mizoguchi's "47 Ronin".
The 47 Ronin is the true story of samurai who plot revenge against the powerful lord who goaded their master into a "crime". Punishment for the crime was the demand that the master commit seppuku. The now-masterless samurai plot their revenge.
The film was made by Mizoguchi in two parts: the first with full consent of a Japan gearing up for war. On its release, the audience found it rather slow and disappointing. Remember, this is a true story, the diary of a woman of the court is the basis for the original tale, as well as Kabuki and film adaptations. Mizoguchi used all his skills to design a truthful and believable world of the Japanese Court of the time period of the events. Every costume detail, every room in the castle...especially the "arrest" scene, with the master closed in a folding screen-all of it feels a bit like turning pages in a book, so careful is Mizoguchi's filmic retelling of the tale.
The second film, believed by the Japanese government to be important for its message of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice was made despite the disappointing showing of the first installment. The second film, bundled into the first by Criterion, is characterized by increased action and character development.
Mizoguchi was the film director that Akira Kurosawa most admired. Although he faulted Mizoguchi for not showing the final battle and revenge, he admired Mizoguchi's attention to historical detail and truth.
A valuable comparison may be made between the film of Inagaki on the same story, "Chushingura", which is in color, made decades after Mizoguchi's and much more "Hollywoodish". Inagaki's use of closeups, and Toshiro Mifune in a cameo (compare the spearman in Mizoguchi's version to that of Mifune's character in Inagaki's) as well as the general tone and feel of the film are much more comfortable and pleasant. The last scene of Inagaki's film-the ronin marching triumphantly through town after their revenge is the best example of difference in the telling of the two stories.
In Mizoguchi's version, the end comes as we hear the names of the 47 ronin called, one by one, to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide. Mizoguchi never shows us their deaths. They are hidden beyond the walls. Finally, the leader of the ronin is called to his death. He says to the man with whom he is holding audience, "excuse me, please." And he stands to walk to his death. How chilling!
Although "Ugetsu Monogatori" is the most haunting of Mizoguchi's films..the one that I cannot shake..I find that the "47 Ronin" is a valuable, beautiful film well worth knowing, especially as compared to the delightful, but, ultimately much weaker "Chusingura" by Inagaki. "
Among best pictures ever made
Gabriel Cazes | El Pinar, Canelones Uruguay | 11/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This wonderfull movie is about attitudes and commitment of persons carried to extreme circumstances. The motivation of their actions is a great concern for them, thus dialogues are brilliant and invite to think about them. Environment were the movie occurs is beautifull, works of art displayed in it are breathtaking. Definetily not a movie of action, don't look in it for flying swordmen, karate virtuosism or thinks like that, but if you are interested to see how hard things can happen to persons, and how they can behave with loyalty to reason, then you will be interested in this film. Rithm of the movie is, accordingly with its nature, contemplative, so it must be apreciated with an attentive and thoughtfull attitude. Finally, the fact that Magister Mizobuchi didn't make an action film, might be a subtle act of rebellion to the goverment of his time (1942), that was rather disapointed with a movie about reason."