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|Index||24 reviews in total|
I first saw this very great film in the fall of 1965 when I started as a
freshman at Cal. It had been playing at a local art house for ELEVEN
and, it being Berkeley, people were picketing to demand a new movie! I
lucky to have the chance to see it three times before it finally closed
weeks later. At the time, I thought it was UNDOUBTEDLY the greatest movie
ever made, or ever likely to be.
Six years later, I had a second encounter with "Chushingura" when it was revived at an art house in San Francisco. A group of friends and I attended a showing where we were the only Caucasians in attendance -- EVERYONE ELSE in this 200+ seat cinema appeared to be Japanese or Japanese-American. It being the early '70s in the Bay Area, we had fully prepared ourselves to maximally enjoy the sheer visual beauties of this film. Sure enough, it was gorgeous, and we all muttered "wow" either singly and in chorus as we wallowed in the cinematographic feast.
But the stunning thing, to me, was the response of the Japanese/ Japanese-American audience. Utterly quiet throughout the movie, when the lights went up most of them had tears streaming down their cheeks --no vocal crying, mind you, just the overwhelming emotional response to a peak, deeply moving experience. I really envied them their cultural insight into the profoundly Japanese issues this masterpiece explores, something which as much as I admire "Chushingura" I must admit that as a Westerner I don't entirely comprehend.
The story is described elsewhere, so I'll focus first on the unparalleled BEAUTY of this movie. It is simply the most gorgeous thing ever committed to celluloid. Every single frame is like a perfect work of art, a series of superbly imagined Japanese images of nature and humanity which engulf your senses in endless, exquisite splendor. Next, "Chushingura" has stupendous pacing -- the shifts between tension and serenity, between lyricism and violence are expertly crafted, and the movie flows, sometimes majestically and sometimes in terrifying haste, to its incredibly exciting climax and compellingly tragic denouement. Finally, "Chushingura" explores deep themes of honor and loyalty, retribution and atonement, that may not resonate fully with a Western audience, but which nevertheless inspire awe and an enhanced curiosity about the culture and people that produced and are molded by them -- the culture that created this unforgettable cinematic masterwork.
Is "Chushingura" UNDOUBTEDLY the great movie ever? Maybe not, but it's definitely in the running with only a handful of other films for that exalted position.
I have actually seen this film several times because it was my college boyfriend's favorite movie and I was dragged to the local art house to see it 5 times. But I have to say I found something new in it each time. While I agree with the previous reviewer that it can be confusing, the story is legendary in Japan and the film makers didn't feel the need to explain elements the Japanese audience would be familiar with. I suggest a second viewing will make it more coherent. I have yet to see a more recent samurai/martial arts film match the suspense and beauty of the snow scene or the heartbreak at the end of the first half. It is a visually rich and rewarding movie experience.
In 1962, Toho Ltd. released "Chuchingura" as an anniversary piece. At nearly four hours' length, it almost requires a devotion to Japanese cinema and the culture's many nuances to appreciate. But it is exquisitely filmed in Toho Vision, right down to the fluttering cherry blossoms and snow tumbling from trees, and the costumes, sets and makeup win my awards for best I've seen from Tokyo. Having been to Japan and studied Japanese literature and language in the '60s, it was fairly easy for me to get into the story. Indeed, it has been written about many times, and anyone who has read one of the stories should be able to follow the plot. Like many epic films, it begins to bog down in the center, as the ronin go their separate ways and take up all matters of industry and living conditions, fall in love or not, waiting for the day of retribution. We are led up to that point with the unfolding of the drama behind the story. The fast-paced conclusion brings it all together and ends, rather abruptly I thought, with a narrative about what happens once the deed was fulfilled. It's a story of loyalty and courage to the nth degree. The bushido code is one of Japan's most revered cultural elements and it is celebrated here. If you can tolerate the length, the film is definitely worth a look, if for no other reason than to understand more about what the Japanese samurai life in the 18th and 19th centuries was like.
It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the original 1962 incredibly loving critiques are no longer in print regarding the true nature of the origin, history and creation of this film. When I first saw it in 1963 (at the Castro, I believe, in S.F.) there was a lengthy story "blown up" on display board in the entryway. This film was a one-of-a- kind deliberate and heartfelt "gift to the world", created by a group of Japanese artists using film as their medium. This particular film was a reflection of what happened in the hearts of sentient Japanese artists AFTER Japan's defeat in WWII. Out of profound dignity they crafted this film to tell of the truest, deepest beauty of their culture, revealing it through the vulnerable opening of their hearts and sharing the story of the true Japan. In a manner similar to "The Passion" of our time, there was always a great historical purpose to this gift -- not merely a commercial undertaking. Thus, I believe the HISTORY of this film holds an even more noble place than the film itself, which happens to be a masterpiece painted with the love of its creators.
"Chushingura" retells the famous story of Lord Asano's loyal men in a
way uncommon to most historical dramas. Not only does it give the
account in wonderful detail, incorporating a great many historical
characters (though, as has been said, they can be hard to keep track
of), but it is also a wonderfully beautiful and emotional film.
The cinematography is fantastic. Colors are put to good use and set up a wonderful atmosphere; it is a shame that the only DVD release of this film available in the United States is of such poor quality that much of the effect is lost. Akira Ifukube's score is, as usual, magnificent and adds as much mood and atmosphere to the film as the beautiful photography. Many of Toho's great actors are present here and do a commendable job of portraying the vast array of characters. The classic story is told with great emotion as well as attention to detail, and the pacing never slips. There are also many interesting transitions from scene to scene, set up in such a way that a scene often appears at first to be part of the one before it.
A terrific movie. Recommended for all who are interested in this most memorable part of Japanese history and/or dazzling cinematic beauty.
I first saw Chushingara in 1972 in Boulder, Colorado on the CU campus. I racked up 3 additional viewings in the next couple of years, one at Boston's Park Square Cinema, long gone and lamented. The Park Square often showed Japanese films and I saw the Samurai Trilogy there as well as some of the other classics. I've since seen in again in theaters and now have the video. I was struck, reading some of the other viewer comments, by how many people felt exactly as I did, remembering each viewing as though it were a superb meal to be savored the rest of our lives, rather than simply "seeing a great film". The other comments articulate the reasons why quite well, but I'll add my two cents. Aside from being perhaps the most gorgeous film ever made, its beauty is integral to the psychological mood of heroism intensified by each moment's transience and each life's fragility. The great trial and seppuku scene, framed by that stunningly beautiful music and the equally intense cherry blossoms, stands as one of the most concise statements of life's tragic beauty as well, of course, as the soul of Bushido. The course of action pursued by Chamberlain Oishi creates the emotional hook and the humorous scenes, highlighted by Toshiro Mifune's wonderful character, keep things barreling along. In the end, though, it is the whole package - the stunning sets, many of them modeled fairly closely on classic Japanese woodcuts; the brilliant acting and direction; the loving detail of so many aspects of Japanese culture; the unfolding of justice; the close relationships and their exacting depiction; the revelation of a code that is so alien to anything in contemporary western life; the self-conscious gamble to make this film a cultural monument that breathes life; and of course, the final battle - wow! - certainly one of the greatest movies ever made. It is a shame that it is not more accessible on the large screen - the bigger the better - but as it sustains multiple viewings, see it on video anyway - it's worth it and you can always watch it again.
There is not much more that I can add to Michael Stephens' review. As
the film closed, I, too, had tears running down my face in awe of what
had transpired, not only because of the greatness of this film, but the
courage and loyalty of the men and women depicted in this magnificent
I am a Caucasian American, but I have a deep love for Asian culture, especially the Japanese culture, so I have a little insight to their way of thinking. I agree with Michael that many Americans will not be able to completely identify with certain events in the film. Nevertheless, you must have a heart of stone if you cannot feel SOMETHING for what happens in the film.
Yes, this is a long movie, but I found I wanted more. The story, the acting, directing, EVERYTHING was MAGNIFICENT!!! And, of course, there was TOSHIRO MIFUNE, brilliant as always even in this limited role. If you are a fan of Japanese cinema, you will see MANY familiar faces. And, to top it off, the music was composed by the GREAT Akira Ifukube.
My only complaint is the DVD. As beautiful as this print is, it still looks like it needs to be restored. I can't imagine how wonderful that would look!! Also, some extras like a short background story would be helpful to those that have no real knowledge of Japanese history. I CANNOT recommend this film enough!!
"Chushingura" offers one of the screen's finest and most powerful depictions of the personal qualities of integrity, loyalty, and personal sacrifice. This exquisite-looking film, photographed in rich color for the wide screen, is much more compelling than Mizoguchi's rather stolid WWII era telling of the oft-filmed story of the loyal 47 ronin. Although this one might have benefitted from slight trimming in the middle, it largely holds the interest for more than three hours and ends with a final showdown that's one of the most exciting ever filmed. Its release in the West on video should go far in increasing the underrated director Inagaki's reputation. This, and Masaki Kobayashi's "Harakiri," also released in 1962, are two of the greatest films made in Japan.
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.
This is one of my favorite stories and this film does it great justice. It is a "must". Check it out! The acting is very good, as is the "staging" of action. The gamut of emotions is wide. The story develops is a slow, inevitable, and suspenseful way --- even if one actually knows the ending beforehand. The motivations of the characters are clear. Their internal conflicts between duty, pride and sorrow, on the one hand, and the desire for a normal life, on the other, are strongly portrayed --- as are their nostalgia and sense of loss. The interesting quality of this story is that there is no one protagonist: All of the characters must take part. It is easy to see how the story has remained so popular for about 300 years. To my mind, however, this film is not quite as visually "beautiful" as the black and white "47 Ronin" that was made in 1940, I believe. Check it out!
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