ChushinguraThere have been many film versions of the classic Japanese tale about the 47 ronin. The earliest was in 1907, which was a one act play put on film. A longer version came out around 1910. A longer version, Jitsuroku Chushingura, was released in 1928.

In 1941 acclaimed filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu) was commissioned by the Japanese military to make a new version that would be a pro-war morale booster. Mizoguchi made the film but it was a more cerebral film and part one was released before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The movie bombed but because the story is considered so important the studio let Mizoguchi make a part two to wrap up the story.

In 1958 Kunio Watanabe directed The Loyal 47 Ronin, a fairly decent colour version but my favorite version is the 1962 film, Chûshingura directed by Hiroshi Inagaki. This version co-starred Takashi Shimura and Toshirô Mifune (both Akira Kurosawa regulars).

For those unfamiliar with this classic story, it’s set in the 1700’s and while the legend has grown over the decades, it’s based on a true event. The names were all of actually people. Lord Asano Naganori was tricked or egged into insulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka. As a result Lord Asano commited seppuku. His clan was disbanded and his land seized and his samaurai became ronin, masterless samurai. Out of the 300 plus samurai that Asano had, 47 of them banded together to plot revenge against Kira. They waited for over two years while Kira let his guard down. In the meantime the ronin became farmers, merchants, beggars and the like waiting for a chance to strike. When the time came they attacked.

It’s a pretty entertaining story and Inagaki’s version builds nicely to a beautiful violent conclusion. There have been more versions, there was a TV series in the 1970’s and in 1978 Kinji Fukasaku directed The Fall of Ako Castle with Sonny Chiba starring. In 1994 acclaimed filmmaker Kon Ichikawa (The Burmese Harp) tried his hand at the story with some pretty damn good results. In fact it’s pretty tough to make a crappy version of the story unless you’re Hollywood.