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Movie-A-Day #35: The 47 Ronin (1941-1942)

February 4, 2011

The story of the loyal 47 ronin has been a staple of Japanese theater and film for 300 years. The incident, in which the group of samurai avenged the politically-motivated death of their feudal lord, is considered a foremost example the Japanese notions of honor, discipline and bushido. The ronin were punished by being forced to commit ritual seppuku in early 1703. (Although the Wikipedia article linked above puts that event on March 20, most other resources – including today’s film – claim it took place on either Feb. 3 or Feb. 4.) Kenji Mizoguchi’s version of the tale, the two-part
“The 47 Ronin,”
is a classic of the samurai genre, despite having none of the action or swordplay audiences have come to associate with samurai films. Instead, the film is a slow, somber meditation on the value of honor and vengeance, as well as the tragic consequences of violence. It was financed by the Japanese government as a public morale booster on the eve of war – part one was released just one week before Pearl Harbor – but it wound up being an undeserved commercial flop at the time. (Speaking of commercial flops, a 3D action version of the story starring Keanu Reeves is currently filming and will hit theaters next year. You’ve been warned. See this version now before Keanu and company ruin it for you.)

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