A young lord attempts to combat the corruption endemic to the Shogunate bureaucracy, only to be placed in an impossible conflict of duties. He refuses to pay the "customary" bribe expected by a Chancellor sent from the Shogunate to teach him the etiquette for receiving envoys from the Emperor. In revenge, the Chancellor goads the lord into drawing his sword when the envoys are present, a crime punishable by death. The young lord is forced to commit ritual suicide for this crime. His vassals are ordered to turn over their lords estate for confiscation, forbidden to take revenge for their lords death, then disbanded as a clan. To obey the Shogun, the lords former samurai must follow those orders, but to be loyal to oaths they swore to their lord and have justice, they must avenge him. This conflict of obligations is the primary dilemma in Japanese society, which is why this story is considered their national epic. The story is richly woven and the film worth seeing for the gorgeous art ... Written by
Mike O'Brien <email@example.com>
Inagaki's Chushingura is a big-screen film. The colours are vivid, the composition meticulous, and the various characters disappear for long periods requiring concentration to remember who's who. Modern audiences used to more nuanced characters in period pieces (such as The Assassination of Jesse James, or Twilight Samurai) might find this straight telling of the tale in undiluted terms slightly twee. Indeed, Chusha Ichikawa as the villain Kira is the film's major flaw, a pantomime villain, lecherous and mean-spirited, who seems to be mugging it up for people in the back row. Dated characterisation aside, the telling of this tale earns your tears at the end as the worthy assailants troop off to Edo castle to meet their unhappy destiny, the actual moment of seppuku relegated to a final credit-roll.
More modern renditions of Chushingura have focused on the inner human conflict, the lovers thwarted by demands of loyalty and honour. Inagaki unashamedly keeps his narrative on surface events, preferring to wow the audience with scale and spectacle. Japanese audiences come to the film the way Brits come to the tale of Robin Hood, with an inner template of longing for values cherished but long gone. Their eyes are already moist in the ticket queue. Western audiences less familiar with the tale of the 47 ronin might get a little lost in the narrative, but the pace of events and elegiac sense of living a life for a higher purpose is conveyed to universal appeal. Excellent music score.
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