The 47 Ronin (1941) Poster


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Long, slow epic worth seeing
wandering-star11 November 2006
I saw this film on the big screen when it was screened at a local theatre last summer. Needless to say, I went alone for this 3h40min marathon - I could not coax my wife to come! The "47 Ronin" is an epic film about this legendary Japanese story about how 47 masterless samurai plot to avenge their Lord's death. I won't expand on the plot here, but if you Google the topic or go to Wikipedia, it's a really fascinating story.

That this film is not for everyone is an understatement. It is slow moving, monumentally long and requires a lot of patience. But, the viewer is rewarded with incredibly genuine acting, beautiful and poetically shot scenes, and in the context of when the film was made, a window into WWII-era Japan. Telling to the wartime era this film was made in, the credits at the beginning of each Part give credit to the "Propaganda Department" (English translation).

Also poignant and disturbing, is the very serious and thoughtful portrayal of the Japanese practice of seppuku, or ritual suicide by slicing the stomach until the bowels spill out, then decapitation by a skilled swordsman.

Overall, I'm very glad I saw it - and would recommend it to others interested in this story. It's one of those movies that you only need to see once though.
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Not really about the Ako Vendetta
xhidetox16 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This story is a retelling of the famous Ako Vendetta of 1702 when 46 men + 1 honorary member, stormed into Lord Kira Kouzukenosuke's Edo mansion slaying him as an act of vengeance for their Lord Asano Takuminokami. Although not all of the details are known specifically about the actual event aside from a handful of eye-witness accounts, I felt that this movie does not do it justice and is far from being Mizoguchi's best work. Unlike other stories based on the Ako Vendetta such as Inagaki's "Chushingura hana no maki, yuki no maki" (2 parts), and even the puppet play "Kanadehon Chuushingura" from the mid 1700s, (still preformed today) this film does not put enough emphasis on why Lord Asano had assaulted Lord Kira and instead puts its focus entirely on the loyalty of the 47 involved ronin. The film relies entirely on loyalty without question and never brings into play the morality of the vengeance or the justification of the avenged. Essentially what we are seeing is a typical war-time film where the focus is on its propaganda. Later films, such as Inagaki's aforementioned work, spends more time on portraying Lord Kira as a villain, thus justifying the act of vengeance. However, that does not hurt the film, it actually enhances it. Understanding that this film is the result of the Japanese government's interference with the war-time film industry allows you to look at it in a completely different light.

If you are looking for an accurate portrayal of the Ako Vendetta, you will not find it here. The film is long winded and dry, despite having some of the most convincing and impressive acting ever. If you can put aside its near 4 hour length and objectively look into its war-time mentality, I find that watching this film can be a rewarding look into Japan's history. You can find an old story, retold, and transfixed with WWII ideals.
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We've seen more simplistic and bombastic propaganda, to be sure
Arca19431 July 2007
Yes, the pace is slow, yes the movie is long; especially to our eyes used to modern (?) movie-making of the recent years that knows only two rhythms, ultra-fast and ultra-ultra-fast. Yet the story of those 47 ronins, at least for those of us patient enough to enter it, to let themselves flow into it, is all in all very interesting and says a lot about 18th-century Japan. This movie is remarkably well constructed and acted and while the rhythm is slow, it is also implacable : the good side of having a slow rhythm is that you can eventually accelerate, something that ultra-fast doesn't allow.

But most of all, I notice this : for a film that was supposed to take place into a war-propaganda effort, I do find this tribute to the traditional virtues of the Japanese warrior to be remarkably sober in tone and almost completely devoid of any rhetoric. So, I am not at all surprised to learn that it was a commercial insuccess when it was released in 1941 Japan : for the spirit and inspiration of 'The 47 Ronins' are much too elevated to fit the ultranationalist hysteria of the times.
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Something different in the Way of the Samurai
Barev20133 December 2014
Mizoguchi's Genroku CHUSHINGURA: originally written for the Japanese Hokubei Mainichi, San Francisco, November 5, 1976

Chushingura, the story of the 47 Loyal Ronin of Ako, the unofficial national epic of Japan, has been filmed probably more times than any other subject in Japanese film history. Starting in the silent days (first version a filmed Kabuki performance in 1913) there have been well over a dozen editions of this perennial favorite over the years, including a feature length cartoon about 47 dogs entitled "Wan-Wan Chushingura". ( N.B. wan-wan ="bow wow" in Japanese.)

Of these various film treatments the only one which can be said to be fairly well known in this country is the relatively popular 1963 Toho all-star edition by Hiroshima Inagaki. In the Bay Area the Inagaki Chushingura has been so over promoted (since It happens to be owned by a Berkeley distributor) that most people around here are not even aware that other versions of the film exist. Another, and in the opinion of this writer, far more interesting treatment of the Chushingura story, directed by Kenji MIzoguchi in 1942, just after Pearl Harbor, is now on view for a weeks run at the Telegraph Repertory Cinema in Berkeley near the campus.

This film, a landmark of the forties and a landmark of the MIzoguchi repertoire as well, did receive limited exposure earlier this year before small museum audiences at the Pacific Film Archive during the course of a MIzoguchi retrospective held there in April. The current run at the Tel-Rep is, however, to the best of my knowledge, the first real commercial exposure this remarkable film has ever had in this country.

It is well known that fidelity is one of the cardinal Japanese virtues, and adherence to an established code of behavior another. As the ultimate dramatic exemplification of these fundamental Japanese values the Chushingura story is unrivaled.

In the spring of the year 1702 at the height of the Genroku period the idealistic young Lord Asano of Ako castle (present day Hyogo Prefecture near Kobe) refusing to pay a bribe in return for instruction in courtly protocol, is baited into drawing his sword against the sleazy corrupt Master of Ceremonies, Lord Kira at the Shogun's palace. For this unpardonable breach of the courtly code he is forced to commit Harakiri, the Asano clan is disbanded, and all his retainers are reduced to outcast Ronin -- wandering masterless Samurai -- the lowest of the low in the strict Samurai social order.

Responsibility for restoring the honor of the Aano clan now falls upon the shoulders of the chamberlain and chief retainer, Oishi Kuranosuke. The only way to achieve this is by a blood vendetta against Kira, but Kira is, of course, expecting this and goes into hiding.

in order to lull Kira into a false sense of security Oishi In turn himself goes underground abandoning his family and pretending to lead a dissolute life devoted to pleasure. So determined is Oishi in maintaining this pretense to ensure the ultimate success of his mission that even the widow of Lord Asano is convinced that he has lost his nerve and she refuses to permit him to offer incense on the anniversary of Asano's death.

on Christmas Day, 1703, after enduring more than a year if public shame and private deprivation, finally surfaces and leads the 47 Samurai who have remained loyal throughout (although many have not and have dropped out) in the famous attack in the snow on the Kira estate. Kira's head is taken as vowed and the loyal 47 march solemnly to Asano's grave to pay their last respects.

The inescapable penalty for this act of defiance against the Shogunate was, of course, Seppuku for all involved --the ultimate example of Death before Dishonor and and all forty- seven Ronin accepted their fate of mass suicide by disembowelment -- the excising of ones own intestines without benefit of anesthetic -- with great dignity, upholding thus their collective code of honor to the last.

The 47 Ronin became a latter day legend and their tomb a national shrine at which many Japanese spend a quiet moment of contemplation each year. (The tomb of the Forty Seven is located a few minutes walk from Mita station in Tokyo).

Where the Inagaki version of this story is all color, pageantry, and swordplay, a typical TOHO spectacular, the Mizo version, in subtle shadings of black and white, is a far more penetrating study of the psychology and morality involved. It must be pointed out that the film was commissioned by the wartime Japanese government to foster the jingoistic Samurai spirit and it is much to Mizoguchi's credit that even under such pressure he was able to make a picture in which not a single sword fight is actually shown. All violent action, including the final assault on the Kira house, takes place off screen and is merely reported.

MIzoguchi was concerned not with action itself, but with the psychological effect of violent action on people not directly involved. {Talk about contemporary relevance to a place called Ferguson, 2014!} This indirect psychological approach to violence coupled with the famous Mizoguchi floating camera Style and his uncanny sense of pictorial composition combine to make this four hour film a lasting experience. If you approach this film looking for the usual Samurai chambara clichés you will be disappointed. The First Time I saw it a couple of years ago I must admit I was a little bored. Seeing it for the fourth time the other night, the flashier Inagaki version began to pale by comparison. But then MIzoguchi was a genius whereas Inagaki was merely a competent contract director. Give this a BIG FAT **********
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Slow-Paced Immersion in an Ancient and Different Culture
claudio_carvalho17 June 2014
In 1701, Lord Takuminokami Asano (Yoshizaburo Arashi) has a feud with Lord Kira and he tries to kill Kira in the corridors of the Shogun's palace. The Shogun sentences Lord Asano to commit suppuku and deprives the palace and lands from his clan, but does not punish Lod Kira. Lord Asano's vassals leave the land and his samurais become ronin and want to seek revenge against the dishonor of their Lord. But their leader Kuranosuke Oishi (Chôjûrô Kawarasaki) asks the Shogun to restore the Asano clan with his brother Daigaku Asano. One year later, the Shogun refuses his request and Oishi and forty-six ronin revenge their Lord.

"Genroku Chûshingura" is a Japanese classic movie based on a true story. Kenji Mizoguchi made a too long movie with four hours running time that is actually a slow-paced immersion in an ancient and different culture and code of honor. Unfortunately this beautiful movie is only for very specific Western audiences since it is in Japanese language, shows a different culture, most of the characters are alike (clothing, haircut, biotype) and unusual names that you need to keep in mind. But the movie is worthwhile watching and delights fans of this genre. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "A Vingança dos 47 Ronins" ("The Revenge of the 47 Ronin")
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A most inspiring movie
EdwardVI19 March 1999
Warning: Spoilers
"The 47 Ronin" is a pathetic account of a real japanese event, that took place around 1780. 47 Samurai warriors were forced to commit Seppuku, ( ritual suicide by perforating your own stomach ) after they avenge their master's humiliation and eventual death.

While watching the film, you are compelled to cry and pray for the admirable bravery, loyalty and humility of the Ronin (Masterless Warriors). Who besides their war skills, are profound philosophers and compassionate men.

The most inspiring film in my life.
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lukas-515 March 1999
Though stately, impressive, and vaguely powerful at times, it nonetheless demands more patience than this viewer had. It's well filmed, but rather static and aloof. None of this is aided by its nearly 4 hour length.
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The Ako Vendetta of 1702
lastliberal10 January 2009
Nearly four hours long, this film can task even the most dedicated samurai viewer. It has some really good acting, but that is lost for most in the pace.

It is a tale of the famous Ako Vendetta of 1702. I do not know how historically accurate it is, but it does give a glimpse into Japan's history.

It also gives a glimpse of hara-kiri; the ritual suicide by slicing the stomach until the bowels spill out, then decapitation by a skilled swordsman.

You are better served in seeing director Kenji Mizoguchi in the classic Sansho the Bailiff.
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Massive Undertaking
topitimo-829-27045919 October 2019
"Genroku Chûshingura" (The 47 Ronin, 1941) is a massive undertaking. Both from the filmmakers and the audience. The film is perhaps the most ambitious adaptation of the oft-filmed kabuki play that it is based on. Shochiku produced the film as a two-parter, with the total film clocking in at almost four hours. It was wartime and studio heads considered it a matter of great importance that this classic tale of feudal loyalty would be brought to screen, for people's fighting spirit to grow higher.

The film starts in 1701. Lord Asano attacks Lord Kira, but doesn't manage to kill him, and he is then forced to commit harakiri by the shogunate. News of this reach Asano's men, loyal to him until the very end, who start planning their revenge.

The motivations for the actions are slowly revealed in the dialogue, although it isn't a mystery narrative like Kobayashi's later "Harakiri" (1962). Although this is an ambitious film, I have several problems with it. Like in most pre-war or war-time period films, the characters aren't psychologically fleshed out, even if there is attempt to accomplish this. The propaganda is such a major element within these characters, that they cease to feel realistic. The film is very serious, as Mizoguchi is known to be, but this time he isn't passionate. The director preferred to do films about fallen women, and this narrative does not really give him much to do. His famous mise-en-scène is also not at all memorable in this film, as the film mostly takes place in the same, lifeless sets.

Unlike later versions, this film really avoids action and violence, although these are part of the narrative. Mizoguchi was never keen on doing action scenes. I can complement this film for the detailed look it gives of the period, but I did not find it interesting as a narrative. The four-hour length felt crushing because there was not an emotional attachment to the characters.

So all in all, as a piece of wartime propaganda, society's attempt to control the contemporary life by subjecting people to a vision of history, that supports the current regime and politics, this is an interesting piece of 20th century history. As a Mizoguchi film, it is lackluster, and feels like something he was forced to make.
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Epic, in the the actual sense of the word
localbum24-16 May 2020
The glacial pace of this film is part of what makes it special. The script/dialogue is dense, and there are seemingly countless characters. Some will find it boring, others, like myself, will like it for that very reason. (Barry Lyndon fans unite.)

It's also a unique window into the grim aspects of samurai culture and how the Imperial government of Japan parleyed and exploited those sentiments into the war effort.
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History Speaks for Itself
Hitchcoc2 March 2013
One needs to see a fair amount of Japanese film to realize that so much of it is cerebral. The talkiness of this film, and most of the Kurosawa films, is to be savored. What this one misses is a modicum of action. I am as patient as anyone, but after three-and-a-half hours of discussion, as a Westerner, I expect something visual. While the close-ups and the tight scene making are fine, we are made to wait so long for an event that we know is coming from the outset. It will be interesting to see what the new film with Keanu Reeves, set to come out in December of 2013, does with the same event. This film is about honor and an ancient code. It is the sunset of the Samurai and they are dealing with the only way to do what they must do and suffer the consequence. Apparently this was a commissioned work, produced during World War II. It is spars and simple. There are some shots outside, and these become so welcome, but we are quickly brought back into the discussion to the interior. Most critical events take place off-screen. I'm sure to a Japanese viewer, the breadth of the ultimate sacrifice is part of legend and they are a willing part of the experience.
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treywillwest15 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Watching this film, it seemed to me almost impossible to say anything about it without meditating on its year(s) of release- 1941-42.

One expects a Mizoguchi film to look beautiful, but what struck me most was the way the camera traversed the elaborate sets. I've seen a couple of Mizoguchi's movies from the '30s and while they are handsome, I do not remember the elaborate tracking shots featured in this film. Jean Renoir had integrated complex camera movement into sound films in the '30s, and surely Mizoguchi was familiar with those works. But what Mizoguchi does here that seems so unique for the early '40s is the angles in which the camera travels- extreme high and low angles that expose ceilings and floors and which form layers of divided space between elaborate sets of courtyards and rooms. One associates such innovations with Citizen Kane which was released, and presumably shot, concurrently with this film. Mizoguchi developed these techniques independently, without any influence from Wells, the history-book "innovator."

On a more sociological level, one must remember that this, Mizoguchi's only film that could be described as a "samurai flick", was produced and released as Japan was embarking on the imperialist adventures of World War II. Admittedly, it is no average entry into the genre. Instead of the ballets of sword-play and violence that one associates with samurai films, Mizoguchi focuses on the emotional repercussions of feudal law and discipline on different layers of Japanese society. Still, the revenge driven collective title-protagonist's self-destructive determination is clearly presented as heroically manly. Was even Mizoguchi the humanist caught up in the wave of nationalistic chauvinism then sweeping Japan? Is the film truly a call for the country's men to readily sacrifice their lives for the bloody glory of the nation? There are scenes that would seem to support such a reading, such as a rather embarrassing one in which the warriors tell themselves they mustn't act like lowly Chinese and instead adhere to the "samurai way." Clearly, this is the way the fascist authorities of the time understood the film.

Yet, I could not wonder if Mizoguchi did not intend the film to subtly present a society defined by futile machismo, in which an unjust death sentence is avenged only so the avengers can go happily to the gallows, accepting their own absurd destruction because to do so is the samurai way.
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The 47 Ronin (aka) The Loyal 47 Ronin of the Genroku Era (1941)
rickrudge27 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The 47 Ronin (aka) The Loyal 47 Ronin of the Genroku Era (1941)

If you're at all familiar with the Samurai genre, you have no doubt heard of the legend of the 47 ronin. This was an actual Japanese historic event that everyone in Japan knows about. This was reenacted in 1962 (47 Samurai) 1994 (47 Ronin) and just recently in 2013 with Keanu Reeves.

If you haven't heard the story, Lord Naganori Asano (Yoshizaburo Arashi) is scolded by Lord Yoshinaka Kira, the Shogun's Chief of Protocol, and in a fit of anger, draws his sword and attacks Lord Kira in a wing of the Shogun's palace. Lord Asano is immediately ordered to commit harakiri and all of his property and possessions are confiscated. The injured Lord Kira (who is related to the Shogun) is not punished at all.

Lord Asano's Senior Counselor, Kuranosuke Oishi (Chojuro Kawarasaki) is helping with the tally of the possessions of Ako castle. The now masterless Samurai are biting at the bit to take immediate vengeance on Lord Kira, but Oishi asks them to be patient and has been petitioning the Shogun to offer equal justice. Vengeance would be coming later when the safety of Lord Asano's wife would be guaranteed and finally an honorable death.

This particular film was made in 1941, so you know this was meant to encourage patriotic fervor, very similar to the propaganda war movies here in the United States. In fact, at the beginning each of the two part movies, there is the sentence, "Defend the homes of those who fight for a greater Asia." You would almost expect the film to have been destroyed by the American occupation censors. Perhaps they couldn't get past the four and a quarter butt-numbing hours of the film's length.

One thing that is missing from this film that we would normally expect from a samurai film is that there is no blood or any show of swordsmanship skills at all. It's strictly a historic costume drama.
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extremely boring - very disappointing
Scarletfire-12 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I was profoundly disappointed in this film. It is 3 hour and 40+ minutes long and not much of anything happens in it. People just sit on the floor in various rooms and say things like what are we going to do, what does so and so think, I'm not sure, maybe we should ask someone else, I don't know, do you know, I'm so confused, etc. This goes on ad nauseum literally for hours.

Kenji Mizoguchi was a 1st class director who made such classics as Sansho he Bailiff and Tales of Ugetsu. Don't don't blame him for this one - he was supposedly commissioned by the Japanese government to make this.
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Part 1: Slow and Talky. Part 2: Padded and Way Too Long.
net_orders3 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
PART 1 (Zenpen). Viewed on Streaming. Costumes = nine (9) stars; cinematography = eight (8) stars; set location/design = eight (8) stars; score = seven (7) stars; subtitles = five (5) stars; restoration = three (3) stars. Director Kenji Mizoguchi's prodding version of an old, well-known fictionalized tale (set at the turn of the 18th Century) with propaganda potential (it was endorsed/supported by the government) held to a minimum. Mizoguchi seems to never stray far from his original source material (a stage play) with dialog designed more for live theater than a movie. The Director has his actors/actresses deliver mostly mini soliloquies and expository information instead of using his camera to show events being described (sort of "no show and tell"!). Many (unseen) events are repeatedly described and trivial lines picture in words what the camera is simultaneously showing as if contemporary audience were considered to be very slow on the uptake. Mizoguchi deploys a huge cast that conveys the sheer magnitude of the bureaucracy then ruling the country. Costumes are outstanding (too bad the film was not shot in color!). Cinematography is very good with some especially creative overhead tracking shots. Sets are spectacular (exteriors are shot using Kyoto area landmarks). Restoration is not there yet. Visual artifacts are present throughout the film, and sound deterioration is a frequent irritation. Score (performed by a small-sounding orchestra) is way above what was the contemporary norm. It is creative and supports/enhances scenes. Subtitles are okay.

PART 2 (Kouhen). Viewed on Streaming. Costumes = eight (8) stars; cinematography = five (5) stars; restoration = two (2) stars. Director Kenji Mizoguchi continues his less than engaging all-talk-and-no-action adaption of a movie from a play. The two major events (i.e., the assassination of the Shogun (Japan's military ruler) and Seppuku (ritual suicide) committed by the assassin as punishment) occurs off screen, but are endlessly talked about on screen. Budgeting constraints become obvious with some exterior scenes reused from Part 1 and very few new exterior scenes provided. (Even the Ronin count is down to 46!) Since the outcome of this folk tale is well known, Mizoguchi stretches his film between the Shogun's assassination and carrying out the penalty the assassins must pay (according to the law) by inserting endless pseudo philosophical discussions plus a silly, off-the-wall romantic subplot (or two) of no consequence. The film could easily be cut at least in half starting with the elimination of Part 2 and folding its two significant events into Part 1 (which has room to spare!). It remains a mystery how an open-secret plan to kill off the Shogun could not be rendered moot by either a preemptive strike on the rebels by the Shogun's huge army or at least deploying troops to totally protect the Shogun from harm! But, of course, this is all make believe. (Recent historical research suggests that the death of this group of Ronins may have occurred in battle and not by Seppuku.) Restoration seems to be limited to just splicing (poorly) reels together. Keep caffeine pills at the ready when viewing! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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