Tracy E. Blackstone | Alameda, CA United States | 11/18/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is one of the two best Samurai films of all time, the other being Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI. CHUSHINGURA ("loyalty") is based on a real incident in 18th century Japan, wherein 47 loyal retainers of a disgraced lord take a vow of vengeance on the corrupt nobleman who caused his downfall and death. The story is timeless, the acting is uniformly magnificent, the camera work is so gorgeous that any frame of this film could be hung in an art gallery, and the music is exciting and heart-lifting. It's a complex plot, following many separate individuals as their vengeance unfolds, so first-time viewers may get confused. No matter -- it all comes together at the end. Watch for the late great Toshiro Mifune in a cameo role as a Master Spearman who becomes drinking buddies with one of the 47, and who takes it upon himself to hold off the cops in the final showdown so that his pal and the other 46 won't be interrupted before they can find and behead the bad guy and fulfill their vow. I have watched this movie many, many times, and I always find something new and wonderful in it. Now that it's FINALLY available on video, don't miss it!!"
A Flawed but Enjoyable Epic
Matthew Davidson | Houston, TX United States | 05/29/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Despite the film's division into two parts, I think the Chushingura is best understood as a complicated story told in three acts.The first act, culminating in the seppuku of Lord Asano, details the conflict between the young lord and Kira, the Shogun's master of ceremonies, and is, in my opinion, the most interesting as it unfolds logically, tragically, and inevitably towards the spilling of blood in the Shogun's castle. Asano and Kira, at least in this stage of the film, are fully realized and three-dimensional characters, and their conflict can be understood on several levels: idealism versus pragmatism; rural versus urban; and, most centrally, a conflict between different conceptions of honor. Kira is slighted because Asano won't show him the deference he feels he deserves, and Asano cannot accept Kira's attempt to teach him a lesson without fatally wounding his pride. The characters feel real because the situation is developed so carefully, and we as viewers understand why the principal actors behave as they do.I think the movie bogs down a bit in the second act where the retainers of Asana plot their revenge on Kira. I also feel it is at this point that those unfamiliar with this story may find it difficult to follow the plot. Like the assassination of Thomas Becket in 12th century England, the story of the 47 loyal retainers has left the historian with not only a wealth of primary documents but also of contemporary analysis of exactly how the events were interpreted. Whereas Becket's murder resonated because of the changing perceptions of the limits of temporal power in medieval Europe, the 47 ronin reflect the changing nature of samurai honor following the pacification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate. Unfortunately, the movie does little to clarify the issues involved despite a three and half hour presentation. The historical Oishi, for instance, worked patiently behind the scenes for years to restore the clan's honor and holdings under the leadership of Asano's younger brother whereas Horibe represented the more radical view that the ronin owed personal allegiance only to their dead lord. In the movie, by contrast, Oishi makes reference to restoring the clan and questions Asano's judgment at the castle, but it is absolutely unclear in the context of the film whether this represents his true beliefs or is simply part of the feint to divert attention from the plot to kill Kira. It is, in fact, hard to ever discern exactly what Oishi is planning, even in hindsight. Horibe, as the leader of the other wing of the retainers, fairs worse, emerging only as Toshiro Mifune's drinking buddy (Mifune, though always enjoyable to watch, is largely wasted in a sub-plot that is completely superfluous to the story). I don't expect complete historical fidelity, but I do expect the events to develop coherently and to address the main issues of the story. I'm not saying that it is a complete mess, just that it is hard to follow at times, and it is not always clear what motivates the characters, and, as film usually does, some of the subtleties of the real events are lost.Thankfully, the exciting and famous battle in the snow largely redeems any momentary flagging of interest. My only quibble is that Kira has degenerated by this point into an absolute caricature of his previous self, becoming the embodiment of the man without honor. I suspect this is incorporated less from history and more from the popularizations of this story, e.g., the various kabuki stagings.Others have spoken of the beautiful visuals, so I won't belabor the point. Suffice it to say this alone is a good reason to watch this film. Others have also spoken of the slow pace. This is also true, and if you demand a tight focus in your movies, this one probably isn't for you."
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 02/25/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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."
The Quintessential Japanese Saga
legal-eagle | Philadelphia | 09/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Chusingura (the 47 Ronin) is a tale that is as popular in Japan -and as often produced - as The Christmas Carol is in the U.S. - and just as revealing of cultural assumptions about right and wrong. There are many versions, each focusing on one of the "47 masterless Samurai" who refuse to surrender and face disgrace out of loyalty to their master. The theme (and story) will be familiar because it's been reworked many times ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Mikado" to "From Here to Eternity."If you want to gain insight into the Japanese concept of loyalty and the price of honor above all else this is the one movie you should not miss.The color photgraphy and scene settings are well done and sound is excellent; the acting is also very good and does not lean heavily on over-emoting that is the sometimes "norm" for Japanese films. Sub-titles are a little light, but easy enough to see and this is one of the more accessible versions (many are not available to Western audiences as more recently they tend to be done for annual TV specfials. You won't need to know the history to follow the story - or get the point.It's a true story of a proud, old fashioned country Samurai who puts the Samurai Code and personal integrity above politics of reality. He's summoned to the Shogun's castle to do his duty - service to the emperor whole messengers are coming through the territory. A corrupt court official expects and demands a bribe to tell the Samurai what he must know of intricate protocol and is outraged when our hero refuses to bend. The official goads him into drawing his sword in the castle - a capital offense, leading to his forced harikiri - suicide.The remainder of the tale - most of it - is about how the 47 loyal retainers face disgrace and contempt, while biding their time until they can avenge their master. The film has everything: psychological drama, action, passion, greed and pathos - everything in fact that makes life worthwhile.Don't miss this one!"
One of Masterpieces - both actors' play and plain beauty!
T Kibatullin | New York, NY USA | 08/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is fantastic! Set in Tokugawa period Japan, it describes a story, which shook Japan in seventeenth century. Young lord Asano (for those, who do not know the history of samurai, the clan of Asano was a prominent clan assisting Tokugawa in his quest for power) coming from very conservative clan is insulted by a corrupt official. In rage he draws the sword in the Shogunal palace - a grave offence punishable by seppuku. He is ordered to commit suicide without a proper investigation of all facts and his counterparty, lord Kira, lives on. Shogunate orders to abolish Asano clan leaving all samurai ronin and several dosens of samurai swear the revenge. By this time private disputes in Japan were to be resolved by the Shogunate. However, the law and the moral contradicted on this point as both Confucian and samurai codes of honour did not allow samurai to live "under the same sky" with lord Kira, who was the cause of their lord's untimely death. The samurai found themselves in conflict of rules of moral and laws and decided to act pursuant to the former.
Scenery is beautiful and actors' play is amazing. I keep recalling Oishi's time at the teahouse with children and geishas when he is told of one of the samurai (his former subordinate) committing seppuku. He sheds tears yet he manages to conceal this from others! Another powerful scene is when one of samurai is attacked during the raid but saved by his own son. The old samurai rebukes the son, but then we see that he proudly smiles when his son turns away. In addition, the raid schenes have some good fight scenes as well.
As opposed to Holliwood mainstream movies, all feelings in this movie are shown somewhat "indirectly" and every scene has many "sub-contents". I highly recommend this movie to everyone who is interested in serious cinematography: you will find yourselves wanting to rewatch this movie again and again."