CHUSHINGURA

(1962)
With Koshiro Matsumoto, Yuzo Kayama, Tatsuya Mihashi, Akira Takarada, Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
Reviewed by JB

When ronin come marchin home again, hurrah hurrah     It is impossible to explore classic Japanese cinema without running into the legend of the 47 samurai.  The tale of loyal ronin (masterless samurai) seeking revenge for the death of their fallen lord, it may be the most dramatized story in Japan's history.  But if you are just beginning to dip your toe into Japanese films, I suggest that you don't start with Hiroshi Inagaki's three and a half hour version of CHUSHINGURA.  It may be one of the most famous and beloved of all the tellings of this tale, but you'll probably need to take time to build some appreciation of Japanese ways and history, the styles of various Japanese directors, the pace of various Japanese films and the talents of famous Japanese actors, or else this film may seem like 100 different characters sitting on mats and talking, occasionally interrupted by somebody committing harikari or Toshiro Mifune passing by to show off his new mustache. I hope that doesn't sound too condescending from a guy who has only has only just begun exploring these films - someone who is only in the water ankle-deep, so to speak.  It's just a friendly warning.

     CHUSHINGURA is a huge film directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, a man who knew how to make big, beautiful, high-budget color epics.  It is definitely a Japanese movie made for a Japanese audience, who know this story inside and out.  The film's moral quandary - how to restore honor without dishonoring one's self - is debated for most of the three hours, before the exciting finale in which the 47 samurai attack the castle of the man who tricked their master into committing hara kiri.  Toshiro Mifune may be featured on the DVD cover, but he has only a small (but fun) part as a drunken samurai who is not sure which side he is going to fight for.  Takashi Shimura has an even smaller part, and true to form, it is completely non-colorful and thankless.  Did no director ever appreciate his work in STRAY DOG, IKIRU and SEVEN SAMURAI?

     If, for some reason, you cannot wait to see CHUSHINGURA, at least check out the SAMURAI trilogy first, a much more accessible epic by the same director. 4- JB 

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