19:00, Presentation by Santos Zunzunegui.
20:00, Genroku Chûshingura I-II (The Revenge of 47 Ronin), Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan, 1941, 241
[Before the start of the two-part film the following captions are shown: “We protect the homes of the fighters of Great Asia.” “Selected by the Government Information Office.”]
“It has been 80 years since the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate (a de facto government in which the emperor delegated all of his power) in Edo. The government has put a stop to the power of feudal lords. The land is peaceful, and the samurai have no work. Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayosi holds power. The date is March 14th 1701, the 14th year of the Genroku period.”
Preparations are under way in the shogun palace for a reception of two of the emperor’s representatives. Supervision of the proceedings has been entrusted to the daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Takumino Kami (Yoshizaburô Ayashi). Lacking confidence in his abilities, he seeks the advice of a court official, Kozukenosuke Kira (Mimasu Mampo). The latter usually accepts such tasks as a means to increasing his own wealth. However, when Asano refuses to pay Kira for his services, Kira deliberately gives him bad advice and insults him on several occasions during the complex preparations. Overcome with rage, Asano unsheathes his katana (an action strictly prohibited by the ruling protocol within the Shogun palace) and attacks Kira, leaving him with minor wounds.
Asano is sentenced to seppuku (ritual suicide by evisceration), while Kira receives no reproach whatsoever for his behaviour. His clan is abolished, his assets expropriated and his vassals (many of them samurai) reduced to the status of ronin (samurai without a master).
The clan is astonished and outraged at the news. Led by the chamberlain Koranosuke Oishi (Chôjuro Kawarazaki), the clan members examine their options. Convinced by Oishi, the vassals abandon Ako castle without putting up a fight. To obtain this agreement, Oishi has asked the shogunate to restore the Asano clan through the brother of the unfortunate daimyo. The request was well received by the people and even the emperor made his sympathies towards the clan known, albeit informally. However, when the shogunate rejects his request outright, Oishi begins to envisage the possibility of carrying out what was his real intention: avenging his master and executing the villain Kira.
Oishi gathers together his loyal followers and demands that they make a blood pact to honour his wishes. Until he decides the time has come, they are to live a quiet life so that Kira relaxes his defences. Oishi himself embarks upon a libertine life, dragging himself drunk (“drinking bitter sake”) to brothels and tea houses and repulsing everyone who thought him incapable of fulfilling his duty to his dead master. At the end of Part 1, Oishi faces one of the most difficult moments of his life: his wife asks for a divorce and leaves the family home along with their two small children. The only person who stays behind with the chamberlain is his older son, barely 16 years old and a young samurai. His father has briefed him on the plan and he has decided to become part of the group of 47 faithful waiting patiently for their opportunity to exact vengeance.
The second part begins in the house of master Tsunatoyo (Ichikawa Itaemon), adviser to the shogun, in Edo. It is spring of the following year. Introduced by his sister who works at the service of Tsuyanoto, Sukeyemon (Nakamura Kanemon), an old vassal of the Asano clan, visits the palace with the intention of killing Kira. The latter is among the guests at a Noh theatre performance due to take place in the palace that night. Sukeyemon is found out and taken before the lord who, after showing his sympathies for Oishi, advises the ronin not to fall into the temptation of acting alone. Any act of vengeance must be carried out in accordance with the samurai ethical code. Displeased at Tsunatoyo’s words, Sukeyemon attacks him as he heads towards the stage dressed in ceremonial Noh attire. Overcome by the noble, Sukeyemon recognises his mistake when reminded that “the revenge of virtuous men must be imbued with a sense of duty and loyalty”.
Oishi receives definitive confirmation soon after that the restoration of the Asano clan is unthinkable. The decision has been made: he will leave for Edo, rejoin his faithful and lay siege to Kira’s home before he is out of harm’s way in his son's castle.
December 14th 1702 (anniversary of Asano’s seppuku). Miyoyi residence where the parents of Lady Asano live in Edo, Asakusa district. Oishi requests an audience with the widow of his former master. He requests permission to visit the grave of master Asano and pay his respects. Lady Asano (Miura Mitsuko) refuses his request and reproaches him for not yet having avenged his master. Oishi leaves without revealing his secret.
That night, Lady Asano cannot sleep. Her lady in waiting, Toda (Yôko Umemura), tells her that Oishi gave her a small package right before he left. The package contains all the expenses that the chamberlain and the ronin have accumulated since their master’s seppuku, all exquisitely accounted for. The two women then begin to understand the purpose of Oishi’s visit.
At that moment, the arrival of a man dressed in strange clothing is announced. He comes bearing a scroll which reveals that vengeance has been carried out: that same night, the chamberlain leading his 47 faithful laid siege to Kira’s mansion, executed him and placed his head on their master's grave. Oishi rejects the impulsive suggestion from Sukeyemon that all the ronin immediately perform a collective seppuku. He thanks his faithful for their service and their loyalty, and reminds them that “it is easy to open your guts here, with a light heart. But in the eyes of the shogun, we would be criminals. We must respect the shogun and the laws of this country. We must await the justice of the authorities and in doing so continue the ethics of the samurai.”
The 47 ronin are handed over to four daimyos. During their imprisonment, they pass the time doing ritual dances, listening to the birds sing or playing the flute. One day, Den’emom (Nakamura Tsuruzo), chamberlain to master Hokosawa, asks Oishi to take on a young aspiring samurai and to pass on his values. Oishi notices that the young man's hands bear the marks of playing the shamisen (a traditional stringed instrument similar to the lute, usually played by women) and realises that he is in fact a woman in disguise. Juroza (Kunitarô Kawarazaki), one of his men, has declared his love for Omino (Mieko Takamine) while he was spying on Kira’s home. The boy flees suddenly and grief strikes Omino and her family, particularly when they discover that his name is on the list of the 47 who attacked Kira’s home. All she wants to now know is whether Juroza's words were true. Although Oishi initially has no wish to consent to the lover’s meeting so as not to threaten the young ronin's determination to die, he ends up granting permission so that the young girl can find out “the truth of a hoax”. Juroza bids farewell to Omino with the words: “Tell your father that I am his son-in-law.”
Fifty days later, shogun messengers bring news of the prisoners’ sentence. Their actions have been deemed to be “an illegal act and an insult to the shogun.” The sentence is death, but the 47 are permitted to conduct seppuku and thus avoid humiliation at the hands of the samurai. Oishi is grateful for this act of benevolence. The official who brought news of the decision also tells them on the side that clan Kira has been abolished.
In one final gesture, master Etsumori Hosokawa (Seizaburô Kawazu) visits the prisoners and tells them of his efforts to try to avoid things ending in “loyal fighters to the death”. Oishi is grateful for this gesture in the name of the 47.
Oishi and his men walk dressed in white ceremonial kimonos to the place where the seppuku will take place. Along the way they encounter Omino, dying. She also performed seppuku so as to follow her lover Juroza and demonstrate her unwavering loyalty.
We hear the call that summons the presence of each of the 47 ronin, one by one, in the ceremonial death space. The last to be called is Oishi. After stating that “we have voted on our lives”, and bidding a polite farewell to the chamberlain Den’emom, he faces his destiny with a smile.