I first saw Chushingara in 1972 in Boulder, Colorado on the CU campus. I racked up 3 additional viewings in the next couple of years, one at Boston's Park Square Cinema, long gone and lamented. The Park Square often showed Japanese films and I saw the Samurai Trilogy there as well as some of the other classics. I've since seen in again in theaters and now have the video. I was struck, reading some of the other viewer comments, by how many people felt exactly as I did, remembering each viewing as though it were a superb meal to be savored the rest of our lives, rather than simply "seeing a great film". The other comments articulate the reasons why quite well, but I'll add my two cents. Aside from being perhaps the most gorgeous film ever made, its beauty is integral to the psychological mood of heroism intensified by each moment's transience and each life's fragility. The great trial and seppuku scene, framed by that stunningly beautiful music and the equally intense cherry blossoms, stands as one of the most concise statements of life's tragic beauty as well, of course, as the soul of Bushido. The course of action pursued by Chamberlain Oishi creates the emotional hook and the humorous scenes, highlighted by Toshiro Mifune's wonderful character, keep things barreling along. In the end, though, it is the whole package - the stunning sets, many of them modeled fairly closely on classic Japanese woodcuts; the brilliant acting and direction; the loving detail of so many aspects of Japanese culture; the unfolding of justice; the close relationships and their exacting depiction; the revelation of a code that is so alien to anything in contemporary western life; the self-conscious gamble to make this film a cultural monument that breathes life; and of course, the final battle - wow! - certainly one of the greatest movies ever made. It is a shame that it is not more accessible on the large screen - the bigger the better - but as it sustains multiple viewings, see it on video anyway - it's worth it and you can always watch it again.
A young lord attempts to combat the corruption endemic to the Shogunate bureaucracy, only to be placed in an impossible conflict of duties. He refuses to pay the "customary" bribe expected by a Chancellor sent from the Shogunate to teach him the etiquette for receiving envoys from the Emperor. In revenge, the Chancellor goads the lord into drawing his sword when the envoys are present, a crime punishable by death. The young lord is forced to commit ritual suicide for this crime. His vassals are ordered to turn over their lords estate for confiscation, forbidden to take revenge for their lords death, then disbanded as a clan. To obey the Shogun, the lords former samurai must follow those orders, but to be loyal to oaths they swore to their lord and have justice, they must avenge him. This conflict of obligations is the primary dilemma in Japanese society, which is why this story is considered their national epic. The story is richly woven and the film worth seeing for the gorgeous art works, buildings, and costumes of 18th century Japan alone.
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