Chushingura: The Loyal Forty-seven Samurai

Directed by: Hiroshi Inagaki

Produced by: Sanezumi Fujimoto, Tomoyuki Tanako
Directed by: Hiroshi Inagaki
Screenplay by: Toshio Yasumi
Photography by: Kazuo Yamada
Music by: Akira Ifukube

Main Cast

Kuranosuke Oishi - Koshiro Matsumoto
Takuminokami Asano - Yuzo Kayama
Yasubei Horibe - Tatsuya Mihashi
Awajinokami Wakisake- Keiju Kobayashi
Chikara Tsuchiya - Ryo Ikebe
Riku Oishi - Setsuko Hara
Aguri Asano - Yoko Tsukasa
Hanbei - Hisaya Morishige
Gemba Tawaraboshi - Toshiro Mifune
Kozukenosuke Kira - Cusha Ichikano

This subtitled version of the Chushingura story was commissioned by the Toho Company in 1963 as a commemoration of its thirtieth year anniversary. Made at the end of Japan's 'Golden Age of Film', this visually sumptuous and highly detailed film features over seventy of Japan's biggest names from the kabuki theater and from the movies in one of Japan's most beloved samurai story's. Besides the number of famous Japanese actors and actress who appear in this 204 minute film, the audience is offered the chance to see this famous story recounted in two parts (like Kenji Mizuguchi's 1942 classic The Forty- Seven Ronin )and in color.

Part one of Inagaki's movie Chushingura: The Loyal Forty-seven samurai is entitled 'Blossoms' and focuses on three main aspects of the Chushingura story: the frustration and humiliation of Asano, Asano's seppuku and the extent of the forty-seven ronin's loyalty to their dead lord. When compared to other productions of Chushingura (Kanadehon, Genroku) it is easy to see that Inagaki remained true to much of the story's core. While Inagaki remains true to the specific founding elements of the story, ie Asano's honor, Kira's greed, Oishi's deception to the world at large, Sampei's death and the planned attack on Kira, Inagaki seems to have taken a great deal of creative liberty with regard to the story's numerous fictionalized subplots. The confusion that arises out of the constant flurry of characters and the numerous subplots that are being continually woven into this film, only reiterates to me the fact that Chushingura: The Loyal Forty-seven Samurai was made as a film intended for an audience already familiar with the story of the Ako Incident and the vendetta of the forty-seven samurai. It is with this assumption in mind that Inagaki, I believe, can in any way justify the great liberties which he has taken with regard to transfusing this film with its many fictionalized subplots. (- either that or he just needed an excuse to feature all of the actors).

When compared to other versions of Chushingura, Inagaki's production of Chushingura seems to focus less on the subtleties of language and more on the visual stimulation of its audience. The emotional nuances that arise in Donald Keene's translation of Kanadehon Chushingura are conveyed through the written and spoken language. It is the dialogue in Kanadehon Chushingura, for example Kampei's suicide scene in act six or Yuranosuke's confrontation with Kudayu in act seven, which creates the emotional shades that appear to be so prevalent in the Chushingura story. Like the authors of Kanadehon Chushingura and Genroku Chushingura, Inagaki also uses emotional connections to make his audience sympathetic to the plight of the individual characters. Through these emotional connections, the audience is exposed to the more subtle aspects of the Japanese culture, namely concepts pertaining to personal loyalty, honor and dignity.

One of the most obvious digressions Inagaki makes from the majority of previously produced renditions of Chushingura, especially pre-modern productions, is Inagaki's use of the historical setting. Unlike Kanadehon Chushingura, Inagaki places his film within its historical setting, 1701-1703 and not the fourteenth century. The names of the characters in Inagaki's film also remain true to history so that Enya Hangan once again becomes Asano Takuminokami, Ko no Moronao becomes Kira Kozukenosuke and Oboshi Yuranosuke becomes Oishi Kuranosuke. The second most obvious digression Inagaki's film makes from Kanadehon is with regards to the parts of the Kanadehon story line missing from the film. Scenes that are crucial to Kanadehon, for example the No performance and Kampei and Okaru's indiscretion in act three and Hangan's parting words to Yuranosuke in act four to "avenge me!", appear no where in Inagaki's Chushingura. The third digression from the hundreds of productions of Chushingura is with regards to how Inagaki portrays Kira and Kira's villainy. In earlier productions of Chushingura, Kira's villainy stems from his coveting of Enya's wife. Though the Kira in Inagaki's film is undoubtedly a letch, his inclination towards villainy is clearly an economically motivated one. It is through Kira's blatant greed that the audience finds their empathy for Asano and the doomed fate of his retainers.

When one compares Mizoguchi's film with Inagaki's film the first thing one notices is that Inagaki's film is in color. While it does not have the artistic drama as a black and white production, the color film allows the audience the opportunity to experience the colorful and sumptuous world of the Genroku Era. The sets and costumes are wonderful in this film. The color encourages its audience to not only experience a certain 'realness' in the film, but it also allows details like the opening scene (where a cherry tree blooms in front of Edo Castle) to explode off the screen. The use of color has given Inagaki's Chushingura a warmness that Mizoguchi's film seems to lack. The color not only enhances the scenery and costumes, but also the human and emotional side of the characters. Inagaki's film can be seen as representative of its own historical setting. The director attempts to delve into the emotional side of a characters nature, Asano's honest anger towards Kira's duplicitous suggestions of bribery just before the tatami mat scene and Oishi's real and faked tears upon hearing of Sampei's death in the tea house, may be seen as reflective of the cultural sentiment during this time. Inagaki's portrayal of the human side of the story was achieved through the use of the close-up shot and significant facial expressiveness. The close up shots of a character, Kira's face after Asano's indignant attack or Lady Tomo's reaction to Kira's professed love of greed for example, allows the viewer to not only witness the emotional undercurrents of the Japanese culture, but savor them.

As I stated earlier, Part One of this film is taken up with the Kira/Asano clash, the ritualized suicide of Asano and the conflict of the forty-seven samurai as they decide what is to be done. The symbolic and esthetic beauty found in part one is made possible through Inagaki's use of camera and color as a means to help connect human emotion to the face of an entire nation. The fleeting appearances of the cherry blossom, in connection with samurai ideals and the samurai's culture of honor, denotes a sadness as the viewer is reminded of the fleeting nature of the samurai's life. This connection to samurai honor and cherry blossoms shows a careful attention to detail on Inagaki's part. Part two of Inagaki's film, entitled Snow, devotes itself to the process of the Forty-seven ronin exacting their revenge on Lord Kira. Under this broad heading coexists subplots that raise moral questions about love, deception and honor. While deception appears to be a very acceptable behavior in this film, (Oishi's deception that he has become debauched or Kiemon Okano's deception to Otsuya in order to get blueprints of Kira's mansion) it is always justified through the giri/ninjo dichotomy. The second part of the film is dominated by two images, snow and swords. The snow in Edo on the night of the attack is historically accurate, but beyond this it is also the symbolic color of death. The use of white is highly contrasted by the use of red as a symbolic representation of Asano's youth, passion and blood. This prophetic whiteness reminds the viewer of the impending doom of the loyal retainers of Asano.

The loyalty of the retainers is an issue which is continually being brought to the forefront of this movie. It is a concept whose boundaries are constantly being tested. The concept and boundaries belonging to loyalty is continually being brought to light in the second part of Chushingura. The conflicting moral issues raised in regard to the concept of loyalty, and which the retainers experienced as they were forced to decide where their loyalties lay, can best be seen with the infighting experienced by the loyal retainers as they collectively decided on an appropriate course of action. Under a banner of honor, the forty-seven ronin united to exact revenge and redeem both their collective and individual honors. Beside the actual planning, this part of Inagaki's Chushingura is dominated by the ronin's attack on Kira's mansion. This huge climatic scene is one where the forty-six men assemble, break through the front gates of Kira's mansion and search for Kira. Careful to only kill those who can oppose their mission, namely other samurai, the men hack their way through the mansion in search of their intended victim. After a long fight scene where all of Kira's men are killed in a flourish of flashing swords and blood, the forty-six samurai bent on revenge find Kira. As a frail old man, bound and sitting on the ground, one experiences a sympathy for Kira that other productions never allowed. The sympathy that one feels for Kira, because of his pathetic and weak nature, is reiterated in Inagaki's film as Kira, when confronted by the vengeful samurai, is given the opportunity to die like a samurai and commit seppuku. Instead of embracing his samurai heritage, Kira cringes as he whimpers about not wanting to die. The Ako retainers take Kira's head. With their vengence complete, the forty-six ronin offer Kira's head to the spirit of their dead lord. While this film digresses from other productions of Chushingura, namely in that it focuses less on language and more on visual stimulation as well as numerous ficticious subplots, this wonderfully produced epic movie has come to best represent the Chushingura genre. It has all the mandatory elements of this famous samurai story while maintaining its modernity and human connection to the world at large.