Chushingura [katsuben Talkie]

Shozo Makino

Scen., F.: Shozo Makino. Int.: Matsunosuke Onoe, Ichinosho Kataoka, Kiraku Arashi, Kijaku Otani, Ichitaro Kataoka, Tomosaburo Otani, Yoshio Mizutani. Prod.: Nikkatsu (Yokota) 35mm. D.: 42’ a 24 f/s. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

The Chushingura story, or ‘Tale of the loyal 47 ronin’, as it is generally known to Westerners, is one of the most familiar narratives in Japanese literary history. It is based the historical account of a fatal feud dating from the early years of the eigh­teenth century (the Genroku Era, in Japa­nese chronology) which had its origin when Kira, a senior official at court, failed prop­erly to instruct the young Lord Asano in his courtly duties. The humiliated Asano drew his sword and attacked Kira. Since to draw a weapon within the court precincts was an act of treason, Asano was sentenced to commit ritual suicide. In response, his dis­possessed retainers planned and executed an elaborate vendetta.
Beginning with Kanadehon Chushingura (A Treasury of Loyal Retainers), the ad­aptation for bunraku puppet theatre first staged in 1748, the story has been retold countless times, inspiring stage plays and prose novels as well as adaptations for film and television. Among the distin­guished directors to have filmed the story are Teinosuke Kinugasa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Hiroshi Inagaki and Kon Ichikawa, while the plots of films such as Toshio Matsu­moto’s Shura (Pandemonium, 1971) and Hirokazu Koreeda’s Hana yori mo naho (Hana, 2006) function as critical revi­sions of the canonical narrative.
This film is a compilation of several early film versions of the Chushingura narrative, with the bulk of the footage apparently dating from 1912. The films were directed by Shozo Makino, so-called ‘father of Jap­anese cinema’. Makino, who died in 1929 after a twenty-year career in cinema, was a pioneer of and specialist in kyugeki (‘old-school film’), as the kabuki-based cinema of the 1910s was known. His collabora­tion with Matsunosuke Onoe, a kabuki actor turned film star, who features here, lasted until the latter’s death in 1925.
The early Japanese cinema, with its al­most exclusive use of long shot and ‘pro­scenium arch’ framing, created a view­ing experience which was very similar to that of the kabuki stage. The similarity was intensified by the presence of a live narrator, the benshi. This version was ap­parently restored and released with a re­corded soundtrack during the late 1930s.

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