Friday, 24 November 2017
The 47 Ronin (1962)
This is my third review of a film based on the 47 Ronin in as many weeks, so hopefully you are familiar with the basic plotline by now. But if not, you can always go read one or the other of them, because I'm not going through it in detail again.
This is the 1962 Japanese version of the tale, which went under the title Chūshingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki in its home country. Don't be fooled by the "starring Toshiro Mifune" byline on the cover, by the way. He is in the film, but it is a relatively minor role: he's not even one of the 47.
First things first: I have in the past made some affectionate jabs about the length of Seven Samurai. That film clocks in at over three hours but the key thing about it is that it earns your attention for that time. This film is every bit as long, but for my money it rather fails at the "earning it" part. It's just long, rather than epic.
So we've got your standard set-up for the tale here, with the samurais' lord falling foul of a rival and being forced to commit seppuku. This film spends longer on that than the other adaptations have, but then it spends longer on everything. Frankly, for all that the rival is kind of a jerk, it's hard as a 21st century westerner to feel much sympathy for the lord: it's explicitly his pride that leads to his fall and while he makes a big deal of talking about how he hates corruption, he's also very wealthy. It's easy to be scornful of "gift giving" when you're drowning in cash already.
But of course these characters aren't 21st century westerners and despite the fact that the lord put his own personal honour ahead of the well-being of his family and retainers, his samurai begin a long and involved plot to kill the rival and reclaim their lord's honour. The film doesn't do a very good job of explaining why the plot is so long and involved, mind you: the rival doesn't seem that well protected at first, and it is only later that he accumulates an army of bodyguards in his newly-built, fortress like house.
Slow-paced, with too many characters doing too similar things to each other, this film is interesting as a native interpretation of the story, but it's not actually something I can recommend as a movie.