The 47 Ronin (1941)

Genres - Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Samurai Film, Costume Adventure, Period Film  |   Run Time - 113 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

Because many of Kenji Mizoguchi's early films from the silent and early sound era have been lost and because much of his reputation rests on such late-career masterworks as The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu, it's possible to overlook this mid-career epic. The stylistic elements are all in place: elegant composition, minimal cutting, subtle but telling use of a tracking camera, and concern with psychology rather than action. In fact, devotees of the Independent Film Channel's "Samurai Saturdays" showcase, where this and its sequel have run, may be disappointed at the lack of swordplay in both films. This is not, in fact, an easily accessible film for Westerners, as it is concerned with ritual and customs that aren't always made explicit. It is a movie of long takes of formal conversation, as the ronin loyal to their late master wrestle with how they will respond to his humiliating death. Even if the reference points aren't always clear, the emotions expressed are universal, and it's fascinating to imagine Japanese theatrical audiences in the early days of World War II watching this tale of men of honor willing to give up everything, including their lives, to uphold their principles.