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Film / The 47 Ronin

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The 47 Ronin is a Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, based, as one might guess, on the story of The 47 Ronin. It runs for a total of four hours, and consequently was released in two parts, Part I on Dec. 1, 1941 and Part II on Feb. 11, 1942.

It is the year 1701. Lord Asano is preparing to host envoys of the emperor. Lord Kira, another high-ranking samurai and chief of imperial protocol, complains about how he was not asked to make arrangements, and insults Lord Asano. Lord Asano, outraged, draws his sword and strikes Kira, but does not kill him. For this, the local shogun orders Asano to commit harakiri and further orders the dissolution of his vast estates. This also renders all the junior samurai in Lord Asano's service unemployed, masterless samurai, or "ronin". Forty-seven of them, led by Kuranosuke, resolve on an elaborate plan of revenge.

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The story of the 47 ronin is based on fact, and is one of the founding stories of Japanese nationhood, one that may be considered of similar significance as that of the Boston Tea Party in the United States. The timing of this film is significant. Part I was released four years into Japan's long, ugly war with China and just a week before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor led to its involvement in a much wider Pacific war. The film, consequently, celebrates Japanese militarism and martial spirit.

Compare 47 Ronin (2013), a looser adaptation of the same story starring Keanu Reeves.


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Tropes:

  • Almost Dead Guy: Kuranosuke finds that Tokubei has committed harakiri, but he isn't quite dead yet. Tokubei manages to ask what Kuranosuke's plan is, and Kuranosuke manages to tell him about the plan to storm Kira's compound, before Tokubei finally croaks.
  • Anticlimax: So, the movie is about the 47 ronin, and their efforts to exact revenge on Lord Kira for the death of their master, Lord Asano. One might imagine that the end of the film would be the ronin getting their revenge and taking out Lord Kira. Nope. First, the attack on Lord Kira's estate and the ronin murdering Lord Kira takes place about 3/4 of the way through this nearly four-hour movie. Second, the attack is not even shown, being instead recounted after the fact in a letter. Third, as noted above, the film meanders for nearly an hour after the killing of Lord Kira. The ronin bring Kira's head to Asano's grave. They wait around for a while at another lord's house. After getting flowers from Lady Asano that are a signal that they will be forced to commit harakiri, the ronin proceed to—put on a variety show. (One of them dances). There's a subplot in which Mino, a character who is neither seen nor mentioned until the last half-hour of the movie, sneaks into the compound to find out if the ronin that romanced her really loved her. Then the ronin commit harakiri. Then the film ends.
  • As You Know:
    • Lord Kira says "When you know I've been chief of protocol for over 40 years..." in the opening scene while complaining about being cut out of the plans.
    • The messenger sent to Lady Oishi from her father tells her stuff she already knows about how he served her family and organized her wedding.
  • Best Served Cold: Kuranosuke's whole plot to lay low and lull Kira into a false sense of security before the ronin strike.
  • Decapitation Presentation: A symbolic one, since the recipient is dead—but the 47 ronin bring the severed head of Lord Kira wrapped up in a cloth to the grave of Lord Asano, and Kuranosuke tells their story to the gravestone.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mino, a lady-in-waiting in Lord Kira's household, kills herself, as her beloved Isogai is one of the 47 ronin and thus condemned to death.
  • Epic Movie: Four hours!
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The first meeting between Kuranosuke and Tokubei is a four-minute tracking shot that starts with Tokubei waiting outside the gate, follows Kuranosuke and Tokubei through the gate and off to the right, then ends with a crane shot as Tokubei is left weeping.
  • Geisha: Kuranosuke cavorts with a half-dozen of them when he is playing the drunken wastrel.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • Asano's harakiri scenario happens offscreen.
    • Incredibly, the attack of the 47 ronin on Lord Kira's compound is not shown. It's merely recounted in a letter to Lady Asano.
  • Jidai Geki: Falls firmly in the Edo period when the shoguns ruled Japan.
  • Manly Tears: Asano's people weep when they hear that the emperor, who might have ruled Asano a traitor, actually expresses a wish that Asano had succeeded in killing Lord Kira.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: After Kuranosuke and Tokubei greet each other, Tokubei says "Do you still recognize me?" Although both are samurai in Asano's service they haven't seen each other for years.
  • The Oner:
    • The scene where Kuranosuke explains his maneuvering to his son is done in a single five-minute take.
    • The departure of Kuranosuke's wife, Lady Oishi, which ends Part I, is done in a four-minute take.
  • Playing Drunk: Kuranosuke does this when some visitors arrive, the first trying to convince him to work for the shogun and the next two demanding he immediately go to war against Kira. He immediately drops the pretense when his son is about to leave to go make war on Kira as well, explaining to his son that everything he's doing is part of his plan.
  • Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Kuranosuke plays the part of a drunken fool, in order to lull Kira into a false sense of security. It works a little too well, as Asano's other men lose faith in him and his wife divorces him.
  • Seppuku:
    • Lord Asano is ordered to do this by the shogun.
    • Tokubei and his son do it when they mistakenly decide that Kuranosuke will do nothing to avenge Asano.
    • And in the end all the 47 ronin commit harakiri on the orders of the shogun.
  • Show, Don't Tell: An incredible aversion of this trope. The attack of the 47 ronin on Lord Kira's compound, which one might reasonably guess to be the action setpiece of the movie, is not even shown. Instead, it is recounted to Lady Asano in a letter after the fact.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Mino, a maid in Lord Kira's household, was betrothed to one of the 47 ronin, Isogai. She dresses up as a boy in order to gain entrance to the house the ronin are staying in, so she can find out whether Isogai ever really loved her.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Mino sneaks her way into the ronin's house so she can find out whether Isogai loved her—he romanced her in order to spy on Lord Kira's household. She finds out that yes, he did.
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