Kon Ichikawa's 47 Ronin Kon Ichikawa

Kon Ichikawa's 47 Ronin Kon Ichikawa

Chushingura, the tale of the 47 disenfranchised samurai that avenged their master and then committed Seppuku, is a historical legend so well-known in Japan that countless versions have been made via all forms of media since its emergence in the 1700s. You’d think that this beloved text could only be enhanced by Kon Ichikawa, the last surviving master of a generation of great directors, but the results of his adaptation are only so-so. The film tells of the humiliation and death of the Asano clan’s master only second-hand; we’re denied, along with the baffled Ronin that survive him, the satisfaction of knowing for sure what happened. The rest of the film features the preparations for the onslaught against the hated Kira (Ko Nishimura), the court official who pulled strings to keep himself from being punished for his clash with the Asano lord. There’s some character development between noble leader Kuranosuke Oishi (matinee idol Ken Takakura) and a young love interest, and some dastardly remarks by the hateful Kira, but the whole thing is rather airless and unmoving. There are occasional fits of the old Ichikawa style but mostly the film is oppressively stage bound — the artificiality of the production is somewhat too apparent, making the already formal proceedings seem very stuffy indeed. It’s not lazy, it’s not a knockoff and it’s not disrespectful to the source; it is, however, a rather minor work by the director, little more than professional craftsmanship you watch out of the corner of your eye rather than being glued to your monitor, rapt in fascination. The only extras are a photo gallery and some of AnimEigo’s scarily thorough program notes. (AnimEigo)