Chshingura (The Loyal 47 Ronin) (1958)

 

 

 

Director:     .

Starring:     

national legend of the 47 Ronin

 


Spoiler Warning:

A bunch of men jump up from where they are seated at a table at the announcement:  "It's Lord Asano's express palanquin!  Bound straight for Ako!"  The little caravan of two palanquins pushes right over any of the men who get in their way. 

Ako Castle.  It is announced: "An express palanquin from Edo (later named Tokyo)!"  The first passenger is a young man who appears to be badly hurt.  The passenger is rushed to see Councilor Oishi.  He hands his message over to the Councilor, who now says to take both passengers and tend to them. 

The Councilor reads the message and declares:  "Lord Kira?!"

Edo Mansion of the Asano Clan.  Ceremony for the Imperial Envoy, Great Councilor Yanagiwara and Mid-Councilor Seikan'in. 

Lord Asano Naganori tells Gengoemon Kataoka to calm down.  Lord Kira Kozuke no Suke holds the fourth rank at court.  It is wrong to offer a bribe to Lord Kira.  The Councilor says that Lord Kira's behavior was so outrageous that he deeply shamed him and his men.  As it was, bloodshed was narrowly avoided.  Lord Asano Naganori says that an attempt to bribe Lord Kira would be an inexcusable slight against the Imperial Envoy!  He then tells Gengoemon Kataoka to go and prepare for the Lord Asano's's visit to the palace. 

Lord Asano Naganori goes to Lord Kira and asks him how is he to receive the Imperial envoys?  Lord Kira tells him to give the envoys gifts each and every day of their stay.  Lord Asano also asks if the tatami mats should be replaced at Fukoin where he will be entertaining the envoys during their visit to Zojoji Temple.  Lord Kira tells him that there is no need to replace the tatami mats. 

Back home the Councilor tells Lord Asano Naganori that the giving of daily gifts would be regarded as rude.  He got this information straight from the steward.  This knowledge makes Lord Asano mad at Lord Kira.  He suspects Lord Kira of wanting to make a fool of him. 

Chief Retainer Yasui Hikoemon comes to speak with Lord Asano Naganori.

Lord Kira finds out that Asano asked the Council Elder about the gifts to the envoys.   He becomes furious when he finds out that Asano told the Elder that Lord Kira told him to give gifts to the envoys. 

Lord Asano learns that Lord Kira replaced all the tatami mats when he told Lord Asano that this was not necessary to do. Lord Asano says:  "Damn that Kira, he's made a fool of me again!"  His men say they will work all night to replace Kira's replacement tatami mats. 

Lord Kira says that Lord Asano is a hick of a Daimyo.  Maybe so or maybe not, but Asano's men manage to replace all of Kira's replacement mats. 

In the morning Kira sees what Asano has done.  So he pushes over a screen saying it is inexcusable to use a screen with an India ink painting in the Envoys' pilgrimage lodgings!   Given that Lord Asano is so rich, he should have had a new screen painted.  Now Lord Kira calls Asano's samurai a bunch of hicks.  Asano is so mad he wants to hit Kira, but his Councilor holds him back.  So Asano asks Kira which form of daimo he should wear to the ceremonies?  Long or short?  Kira says short.  Kira leaves and Asano tells his samurai that they only have to put up with this nonsense for one more day.

Naturally, Kira tricked Asano again and he wears the wrong kimono.  He has to hide from the other attendees.  Luckily, his Councilor has brought with him the other outfit. 

Believe it or not, Asano asks Kira another question at the envoy ceremony.  But this time Kira won't tell him.  Asano gets so mad that he grabs the handle of his sword.  Kira sees this and says that Asano wants to kill him.  If Asano should do so, against the rule of no brandishing of swords in the palace, his land would be taken from him and his family name as well.

Lord Kajikawa approaches Asano to tell him that he wants Asano to let him know when the envoy's visit with the shogun in finished?  Lord Kira intervenes telling Kajikawa that Asano is just a hick and has no conception of court etiquette.  He says he will be the one to assist Kajikawa and not Asano. 

Asano has reached his limit.  He pulls out his sword and chases after Lord Kira. Kajikawa tries to hold Asano back, but soon the cry of "Blood!" and "Bloodshed" is heard throughout the palace. 

The Metsuko is the Shogunate Inspector who investigates important crimes and Metsuko Okado is called in.  He sees that Kira's head is bandaged.  Kira says basically that he did nothing to provoke Asano.  He is perfectly innocent.  Asano tries to explain how he was provoked by Kira, but the Shogun decides that Asano must commit seppuku (traditional ritual suicide).  This decision creates a problem for the Shogun because the traditional rule in cases of violent incidents in the palace was to punish both parties involved, not just one.  This creates a feeling of injustice that starts to well-up among the ronin and others.  

Lord Okado speaks up for Asano saying that Kira's behavior toward Asano must be examined in depth.  Does Okado dare question the decision of the Shogun?  Okado says as a Metsuko it is his duty to suggest a more thorough investigation.  He adds that Kira should have to face some form of punishment.  Okado is told to restrain himself!  To make matters worse, Asano is told to commit seppuku in the garden, where only criminals are forced to commit suicide.  The Metsuko protests against this.  His protest falls on death ears. 

The ever faithful Councilor Gengoemon comes to see Asano on the day of execution.  Oishi can't watch the ceremony.  Someone asks Asano if he has a message for his wife and others?  Asano thanks him for coming and says:  "When you see Oishi in Ako just tell him I am consumed with remorse."  The suicide is watched by quite a few witnesses. 

The samurai meet to discuss what they should do.  A split occurs between those who feel that honor demands that they defend the Ako Castle against any assault by the unfair authorities and those who feel they must obey the Shogun and abandon Ako Castle.  About half of the samurai leave Ako Castle, while the other half stays.  Those who are staying tell the Councilor about their decision.

"Naturally, everyone was evicted from the Asano family's city residence."  Lord Okado comes to check to see if everyone has left the city residence.  When he shows up, the residents are all out on the street.  One man asks Okado if Kira is still alive? Yes, he is. 

April 17.  The 47 ronin meet together. Samurai Emoshichi is told to go to his sick father and tend to him.  Emoshihi says that his father was so sorrowful that there was nothing he could do to help Lord Asano that he committed seppuku.  This frees up Emoshichi to fight along side the other samurai.  Another objection is that Emoshchi has not yet come of age, but Emoshichi and his also under-age friend plead to allow "to follow our Lord into death"!  A disgraced former samurai, Kazuemon, shows up and also begs to be allowed to follow their Lord into death.  The Councilor say "no", so the samurai start preparing themselves to commit seppuku.  So the Councilor relents and backs down.  But he still wants to get Lord Kira who still breathes. 

April 18.  The Shogun's grand chamberlain praises Kuranosuke Oishi for his peaceful surrender of the castle.  The man asks permission to appoint Asano's brother, Lord Daigaku, as his heir. 

The son of Lord Kira tells his father that Councilor Kuranosuke Oishi petitioned for Lord Daigaku to succeed Asano.  Kira responds:  "What insolence!"  The Shogun has refused to allow the succession.  Kira says this is the end of the Asano line.  But what will the Asano ronin in Ako and Edo do?  Aide Hyobu tells Lord Kira to be very cautious for the Asano ronin must be seeking vengeance against Lord Kira.  Oishi bought a large estate at Yamashina in Kyoto.  Kira tells his son to keep an eye on the activities at the Yamashina estate.

Lord Awaji urges Lord Yanagizawa, the Shogun's grand chamberlain, to show a bit of benevolence toward Councilor Oishi in order to mute the public criticism of the Asano-Kira incident.  The head of the Elders agrees with Lord Awaji. This just seems to irritate the grand chamberlain. 

Yamashina Estate.  In disguise Lord Kira's son is at the Yamashina estate of the Councilor.  He says to the Councilor that his name is Okahei and that he has an introduction from Sir Den'emon. The Councilor doesn't give the matter much thought.  His wife mentions that her husband is planning on traveling to Edo soon to deal with the possible appointment of Lord Daigaku as Asano's successor. 

Edo. Lord Kira in his palanquin is carried through the streets of Edo. 

Lord Okada, the inspector, takes an interest in the plan for vengeance against Lord Kira by the Asano ronin Yoshida. He tells the ronin that he is still haunted by Lord Asano's seppuku.  Okada gives the blueprint plans for Kondo Nobori no Suke's estate to the Asano ronin.

At home the woman Rui's master Lord Yanagizawa is concerned that the Kira household is being moved from Sukiyabashi to Honjyo and the old home of that ruffian Kondo Nobori no Suke.  The old home is too close to the Edo palace to be attacked by the ronin.  And Oishi is to come to Edo soon and Rui's master doesn't know what Oishi will do.

Nanbuzaka, Residence of Yozen'in (Aguri, widow of Lord Asano).   The widow speaks with Oishi Kuranosuke.  She says the prominent vassals tell her that they have all placed themselves in Kuranosuke's able hands.  Kuranosuke is cautious because he thinks that the household contains a spy.  Outside the house, there are two suspicious looking men listening in on the conversation.

While walking down a street Oishi Kuranosuke is surrounded by seven swordsmen.  He demands to know who are these swordsmen?  He gets no answer, so he knows he is in for a fight. He cuts down two of the swordsmen before someone else intervenes telling the swordsmen to lower their swords.  He says there will be no violence on the doorstep of Metsuke Okado Denpachiro! One of the swordsman orders:  "Retreat!" and all the swordsmen flee. 

Rui speaks with Lord Shiizu, the man who hired the would-be assassins of Oishi, to get reassurance that no one knows that her master was involved in the attack. 

The ronin meet to talk of their plans for the assassination of Lord Kira.  Yoshida thoroughly studied the inside of the new Kira home, while another ronin open up a trinket shop across from the house.  The ronin tell Oishi they have a total group of 120 ronin.  Oishi tells Yoshida and the others to stay away from Yozen'in's house. 

Rui's master is sending her on an errand to Kyoto.  He says that Heihachiro is already in Yamashina. 

The ronin are upset with Oishi.  So, Oishi tellls them that they do not understand that behind Kira lurks Lord Yanagizawa and it is this man who is responsible for corrupting the government.  The ronin must wait for the result of the bid for Lord Daigaku's succession.  The ronin accept Oishi's plans.  Oishi now tells them he is going back to Kyoto. 

Half a year passes.  Rui works undercover as a Geisha waitress.  Oishi has tea with her at the Geisha house.  A ronin of Echigo, Sekine Yajiro, comes to have a word with Oishi.  The ronin is concerned because it has been a year and a half since the death of Lord Asano  and yet Oishi has shown no sign of bringing the vengeance plan to a finish.  Oishi pretends and says that this revenge plan is pointless.  Yajiro gets so mad at Oishi that he tries to cut him down with his sword, but the Geishas keep blocking him from his attack. 

Ronin Junai and Yasubei come to talk with Oishi.  Instead of succeeding Lord Asano, Lord Daigaku was reduced in rank, reduced in income and sent to live with his relatives in Geishu.  Oishi pretends that his only concern is where is his "girlfriend" Ukihashi.

The Geishas accompany Oishi to his home.  Rui is right up there in front with Oishi.  When dad returns home his eldest son scolds him for being out every night carousing with the women and ignoring his family.  Dad tells his wife that she is a dried-up housewife and has her divorce papers right in his hands.  Now Oishi's own mother balls him out in front of of the Geishas.  Ukihashi has heard enough and leaves. 

And now the females leave to go to Tajima.  His son, however, wants to go to Edo with his father. 

At the Geisha house, Heihachiro and Rui meet together.  He lets Rui know that they expect her to kill Oishi.  He gives her a knife.  At first, she says she can't do it, but Heihachiro insists. Rui goes in to see Oishi while he is sleeping.  She brings out the knife but he awakens before she can plunge it into Oishi's body. Oishi talks with her for awhile and notices that she is shaking.  He asks her why is she shaking? 

Rui returns to Heihachiro and he is very mad that she did not kill Oishi.  He takes the knife from her, but she holds him back saying that he mustn't kill Oishi.  Heihachiro pushes past her, but Oishi is already in his palanquin and starting out on his trip to Edo.  Assassins attack again, but are driven off by Oishi's son and the servants.  The son tells his father that the attack was led by Okahei..  Father says that Chisaka Hyobu sent him. 

Oishi meets with the Asano ronin.  There is some bad news.  After Lord Daigaku's petition was rejected 72 ronin have removed their names from the group.  Oishi says there are only 47 of us left.

Assembling in Edo.  Okano tells the ronin already in Edo that the ronin group from Kyoto is splitting into five sections and coming to Edo.  Oishi'g group is the largest. 

The brother of ronin Genzo gets so mad at Genzo for not wanting to take vengeance on Lord Kira that he tells his brother to get out of his house. 

Rui reports in to her master saying that she thinks that Okahei is no longer alive.  Lord Yamaoka is also dead.  The master asks about Oishi and she says that since he sold off his temporary residence in Yamashina, the man has not been seen.  She has looked for him in Edo, but without success.  The master asks her is Oishi going to take revenge or is he not?  She suspects he will take revenge.  Now her master tells her he wants her to go stay at Lord Kira's place.  He says she is the only one who can spot any Ako spies at Kira's place.  Rui really doesn't want to do that. 

The trinket merchant Okano has to rescue ronin Sugino from almost being dragged into Kira's mansion. A young woman from Kira's place is infatuated with the trinket merchant.  The guys wants the merchant to use this infatuation to get the plans of the new lay-out of the Kira estate.  The merchant doesn't want to take advantage of the young lady, but the others keep insisting that he must do so.  The fellows are interrupted by the arrival of a palanquin at the Kira mansion.

The arrival is Kira's son.  The son believes that Oishi is in Edo now.  Lord Kira laughs saying no one has to fear a man like that. Hyobu says they already have the most prominent of the Ako ronin under surveillance.

Edo.  All the ronin are now in Edo except for Emoschichi.  Assault plans are discussed.  There are at least 10 guards around the Kira estate.

Emoschichi has to leave his poor mother behind to make it to Edo in time

A rumor is spread by the Kira men that Kira is going to Yonezawa.  The merchants say Kira is leaving this very day.  A ronin rushes in saying that Kira's procession has just left the gate!  Osihi tells his ronin not to attack before they know for sure is Kira is really heading out for Yonezawa. 

On the street Okado sees that the palanquin is empty.  Thinking Okado is Oishi in disguise, Kira's men attack Okado.  Okado, without using his sword, fights of the attacks.  Kira's men withdraw. 

The men at the public bath are criticizing heavily the Ako ronin for not even trying to avenge Lord Asano.  The father-in-law of one of the ronin can't take it anymore and says his son-in-law Katsuta Shinzaemon will kill Lord Kira.  The men laugh at the father-in-law and say that Katsuta looks more like a beggar than a ronin.

Emoschichi shows up at the last meeting of the 47 ronin.  The group will strike within 10 days.  Now Okano tells everyone that he will get a copy of the lay-out of the Kira estate.  Okano visits the lady Suzu who in infatuated with him.  He asks her to show him the plans to Kira's estate. Suzu first wants to know if Okano loves her or not.  So Okano tells her that he loves her.  She is so happy at this that she willingly goes to get the plans.  She gets them but her merchant father is suspicious and stops her.  She starts crying and asks her father to forgive her.  Dad asks if Suzu really knows the truth about this fellow she is so infatuated with?  He also asks if the man gave her his name?  She says no.  Dad lets her go with the plans.

Suzu gives the plans to Okano.  Okano tells her that now this is goodbye forever!  Father shows up and says that he knows the two of them cannot be together in this life, but he asks Okano to marry his daughter in the after life. Okano swears he will.  Okano now leaves a crying Suzu. 

Okano is stopped by one of the guards who wants to know why he is wandering the Kira estate.  He slaps Okano to the ground saying he is an Ako spy!  It doesn't look good for Okano, but Suzu comes to the rescue telling the guard that this man is her husband-to-be and she hopes he will not mistake her beloved for someone else.  The guard lets Okano go.  A grateful Okano thanks Suzu for saving him.

Rui goes to see Oishi.  She says that Kira wants to know if Oishi is still here and will he be attacking today?  She wants to switch sides since Kira is so bad and Oishi is so good. Oishi asks her if she is trying to get herself killed?  She says no.  She tells him there will be a tea ceremony at Kira's mansion on the 14th.  Rui leaves.

Shimuzu awaits for the return of Rui.  He stops a man who he thinks is an Asano ronin. The two men start sword fighting.  Rui jumps in between the two men and gets hacked by Shimuzu.  She tells Shimuzu that she could not find Oishi.  Rui dies. 

Oishi says they will attack on the 14th. 

The 14th.  Genzo goes to visit with the Geisha Sugi.  He says he wants to say something to his brother, but the brother is not at home today.

Oishi goes to see the widow Asano.  He tells her he came because he is about to travel somewhere far away.  But how can Oishi leave them for another Daimyo without avenging the death of Lord Asano?  He says he will do nothing to avenge the death.  The widow is devastated at this admission,  Most of the women leave.  Then Oishi leaves.

Genzo's brother comes home and finds the visit of his brother very odd.  Especially strange was the report that Genzo was crying.  The brothers asks his wife why didn't she receive Genzo? 

Ronin Shinzu goes to tell his father goodbye.  Father-in-law says he has no use of a ronin who will not avenge the death of his master.  "As of today, you are no longer my son!  Leave!  Get out!"  Shinzu starts to leave, but his wife Yae asks him to say goodbye to their baby son..

There is a spy in the widow's house.  The spy is cornered and she takes her own life. With her she carried a vengeance pact signed by the 47 Ronin.  The widow cries for the harsh words she spoke to Oishi. 

"Men, it's time to go!" shouts Oishi.  They run and surround the Kira mansion. They break the front door open, while others climb up rope ladders to the higher floors.  The blood bath begins as the two sides fight each other with their swords.  Oishi's men have a hard time finding Lord Kira. 

Finally, two men find Kira.  One of them blows a whistle for the others to come see Lord Kira.  The men surround Kira.  Oishi says:  "I, Oishi Kuranosuke, have come here with 46 other men in order to avenge Takumi no Kami."  He hands over to Kira a suicide knife and says:  "Now, end your life."  It looks like Oishi has to kill Kira for the man will not commit seppuku. 

At the public baths, the news is that the Ako ronin finally raided Kira's mansion and took his head.  Now father-in-law wants to know if his son-in-law was one of the 47 ronin?  He rushes over to find out.  He grabs a list of the names of the ronin and there finds the name of his son-in-law, Katsuta Shinzaemon. Dad goes crazy with joy. He runs home to tell his daughter that Katsuta was among the 47 avenging ronin.

Now the ronin march through the streets of town.  They reach Ryogoku Bridge, a critical path to the main gate of Edo Palace.  Here the palace guard are determined not to let the 47 ronin pass over the bridge.  The palace leader suggests that the ronin go to Fukagawa and cross the bridge at Eitai.  That will allow the ronin to go through Shiba-Takanawa with no resistance.  So, Oishi turns his men around for Fukagawa.  On their way back through town they bow there heads as they pass by the widow of Lord Asano. 

 

Spoiler Warning:  Boy, were those ronin patient.  They planned their revenge on Lord Kira for years before they struck at him and killed him.  Obviously, one of the key characteristics of the samurai was loyalty to their superiors.  Those ronin who once belonged to Lord Asano withstood criticism after criticism from strangers, friends and even family and never let on that they would eventually strike back at Lord Kira.  Some of the ronin lost confidence that the group would actually attack Lord Kira and they criticized their fellow ronin and their leader, Councilor Oishi.  It was indeed tough on the former samurai.  Sometime they even would criticize themselves for not taking their owns vengeance.  It's kind of like the US Marine Corps motto: Semper Fidelis (always faithful).  But it was this terrible feudal system and its protectors, the samurai, and their bushido code with so much stress on honor and loyalty that would lead them into folly and a war that ruined them and inflected so many deaths upon Japanese families.  It even led to two atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  So much for blind loyalty. 

Loyalty is fine up to a point.  A limited loyalty in the US Marines is one thing, but a virtually religious belief in loyalty leads to suicide charges on entrenched positions and the choice of suicide if one is about to be captured by the enemy.  Being willing to wait around for years planning vengeance and then taking vengeance is  bit too lawless for my tastes.  Where is the rule of law?  Well, that was the feudal system and the lords were the law.   I admire the ronins' perseverance and sacrifice, but too much loyalty will lead to being blind to the system and choosing suicide rather than fighting to make a system more equal and fairer.  And the best example is the trouble the Japanese got themselves into when they chose to pick on a super power. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

Daimyo = feudal lord.

Ronin  =  unemployed samurai. 

tatami =  a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms. Tatami were originally a luxury item for the nobility.

 

1568-1600  --  Azuchi-Momoyama Period.  This is the period when the political unification that preceded the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate took place

16031867  --  the Edo Period.  The period was dominated by the Tokugawa Shoguns.

1688 (September) to 1704 (March)  -- Genroku (meaning "Original Happiness") was a Japanese era name after Jōkyō and before Hōei. The emperor was Higashiyama-tennō (1687-1710), the 13th Emperor of Japan.  The era was the Golden Age of the Edo Period.

1695  --  Minting begun of Genroku coinage. The shogunate debased the quality of coins as a strategy for financing the appearance of continuing Genroku affluence, but this led to abrupt inflation.

 

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