Kon Ichikawa's 47 Ronin – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Kon Ichikawa

Ruriko Asaoka … Riku
Hisashi Igawa … Okuda
Renji Ishibashi … Heihachiro
Koji Ishizaka … Yoshiyasu Yanagisawa
Tatsuo Matsumura … Yahei
Rie Miyazawa … Karu
Hisaya Morishige … Hyobu Chisaka
Kiichi Nakai … Matashiro Irobe
Kô Nishimura … Kozukenosuke Kira
Misa Shimizu … Hori
Ken Takakura … Kuranosuke Oishi
Ryudo Uzaki … Yasubei

The Movie:

In Japanese culture, few stories have ever had the impact or importance of “The Loyal 47 Retainers.” The equivalent of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” or “The Alamo,” the tale is one that is part of the national identity. It is the story of the Asano clan, a group of samurai retainers that are disbanded after their lord is sentenced to death for drawing his sword and striking a senior government official, Lord Kira, within the castle walls of the ancient Japanese capital of Edo. Though it is not accurately known exactly why Kira was attacked by Asano, most believe it was a matter of honor, as the older man Kira berated the younger lord, Asano, whether because he was corrupt or just simply rude, until the young man could stand it no longer. Over a year after the incident, those samurai still loyal to Asano attacked Kira’s heavily fortified mansion in order to avenge their lord. Considered the prototypical tale of Bushido, the Ronin gave their life for their dead lord out of a true sense of duty and loyalty.

Over and over this tale has been told on film and TV, most notably in 1941 with Kenji Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin and also in 1962 with Chushingura directed by Hiroshi Inagaki. But in 1994 in honor of the 100th Anniversary of film in Japan, famed director Kon Ichikawa decided to create his own take on the material. Trying to present the story in the most accurate way possible, Ichikawa tries to break down the myth behind the story, presenting the characters more flawed then they’d ever been portrayed before. The result is a fascinating film, which still honors the original tale, but one that offers new complexities to its heroes that earns the film its right to sit next to the other versions of this story.

A big sticking point for whether or not you like this film is going to be how easily you are able to catch on to what is going on. Even though this is the shortest version of the tale I’ve seen, it’s also the densest retelling, throwing characters and situations at the screen very quickly. It also very much helps to have a knowledge of the tale before going in. This is a Japanese movie made for Japanese people, and Ichikawa assumes beforehand that his audience would not need an elaborate retelling of the initial setup.

While this will probably put many Westerners at a distance, by not throwing in the initial controversy in at the start the director is able to play with timelines. This makes for riveting sequences of longer flashbacks, as well as juxtaposition with earlier events and conflicts that take place later in the film. The conflict of the film’s finale is ratcheted up considerably by this use of time, creating a dramatic tension that neither of the previous versions has had.

47 Ronin is also filled with absolutely stunning performances. Ken Takakura shines as the stalwart Kuranosuke Oishi, the chamberlain of the Asano Clan that keeps each of his warriors from falling into poverty and vice while he plots their assault. This is an amazingly stoic performance from Takakura, who ends up being a man that must balance his need for justice and honor, but is greatly tempted by a life of happiness that could very well be his. A new affair with a young woman shows him what type of alternative to certain death awaits him, but it would mean giving up his honor. Many of the characters are shown in this light, as they are tempted to betray their oath to their clan in order to live on in possible happiness. This ends up making the film more accessible, as these aren’t superheroes, but just men who decided to stand up for what they believed.

Ichikawa also focuses heavily on a subplot between Oishi and Matashiro Irobe (Kiichi Nakai), a man working on Kira’s behalf so that he may secure more power from the fallen Asano clan. Irobe and Oishi are constantly at odds in the film, as the Asanos do what they can to ruin the reputation of Kira within the populace and Irobe must constantly react in order to protect his benefactor. This is a fascinating mind game which helps propel the story forward, as we meanwhile see the Asanos prepare for the attack.

Kon Ichikawa’s 47 Ronin is a fantastic version of this heroic tale, with terrific performances and visually engaging direction. The film’s pace is slow but rewarding in the long run, especially as it builds to its excellent finale. There may be better and more famous adaptations of this famous legend, but this thoughtful rendition is a well constructed and excellent film in its own right.

The DVD:

The Video
The print on this disc from AnimEigo is quite excellent, and features very little debris throughout. The picture is never too dark, and all colors are vibrant. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is also excellent. There are no problems with any aspect of the dialogue, and neither action nor soundtrack ever seems to drown out voices.


Theatrical Trailers – You get trailers for this film and Ichikawa’s Dora Heita.

Program Notes

Image Gallery

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Kon Ichikawa’s 47 Ronin
(OUT OF 10)






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