The Loyal 47 Ronin (Genroku Chûshingura) (Directors Suite) (1941)

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Released 21-Apr-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure Audio Commentary-by Dr Adrian Martin, Senior Research Fellow, Monash Uni.
Trailer-Four Directors Suite trailers
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1941
Running Time 213:47 (Case: 241)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:21)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kenji Mizoguchi
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Kenichiro Hara
Seika Mayama
Yoshikata Yoda
Yoshizaburo Arashi
Utaemon Ichikawa
Daisuke Katô
Chojuro Kawarasaki
Kunitaro Kawarazaki
Seizaburô Kawazu
Mantoyo Mimasu
Mitsuko Miura
Kanemon Nakamura
Mieko Takamine
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Shirô Fukai


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    This film represents the second Kenji Mizoguchi feature released to DVD in April, 2010 by Madman's Directors Suite label. Unlike Sansho the Bailiff and four other features to be released in May and June 2010 (Her Mother's Profession, Street of Shame, The Crucified Lovers and The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei), The Loyal 47 Ronin (Genroku Chûshingura) is an action-themed Samurai period film rather than a dramatic 'woman's' film. The reason for this is due to the historical context of the release of the film, in two parts, but presented as one film on this DVD.

    The Loyal 47 Ronin was made during World War II. It was commissioned by the Japanese military as a propaganda exercise, aimed to induce loyalty among the citizens of Japan for the war effort. The story of self-sacrifice for the greater good, and despite oppositional odds, appealed to the Japanese military government who had taken authority of cinematic releases in Japan during World War II. The story of the 47 ronin is one of Japan’s greatest and most well-known historical legends. It has been retold many times in film. Ronin tells the story of a band of masterless samurai (ronin) who plan and commit a calculated revenge for the death of their master and then are ordered by authorities to commit hara-kiri.

    The film was expected to be a colossal hit. Instead it proved to be a financial disaster, bankrupting the film studio Koa, who produced Part One. Despite this, the Japanese government greatly admired the message of the film and approved the second part of the film, which also made a great loss for film studio Shochiku. The story of the Loyal 47 Ronin requires an action epic-themed film to do it justice. In Mizoguchi's hands, the script developed from the play by Seika Mayama took on a cerebral tone, with a lot of dialogue, signature Mizoguchi 'long-take' scenes and no close-ups. Fight scenes, ritual suicides and general violence is implied in this film. The tension in the film, caused by the conflict and build-up of the desire to exact revenge by the masterless ronin, is shown in characters discussing their plans. The actual act of revenge is shown as an ellipsis (i.e an intentional omission), not shown but rather the event is read by the victim's wife from a scroll.

    The story begins in 1701, with Lord Asano responding to insults by Lord Kira by drawing his sword and slightly wounding him. For this act he is ordered to commit hara-kiri (or ritual suicide - the act of killing oneself honourably by forcing one's sword across the intestines), his lands and buildings are confiscated, his family is ousted, and his samurai are forced to take on the status of ronin. The story then details the measured plot by the ronin to exact revenge on Lord Kira and restore their honour for their house, before they are ordered to commit hara-kiri also.

    Mizoguchi’s cinematic style, famous for its mise-en-scene one cut per scene (or at least no more than three) highlights only the violent scene at the beginning of Part One where Lord Asano attacks Kira. The death of Asano, the attack on Kira’s castle and the mass suicide that ends the film are not shown, but implied. Instead of action therefore, Mizoguchi frames the film as a series of tragic consequences due to Lord Asano's attack on Lord Kira, apart from the obvious shame of the masterless ronin, we see one of the samurai's marriage dissolve and another man forced to commit suicide, along with his son, because his son cannot join the samurai clan.

    The Loyal 47 Ronin received over five times the standard budget of the average Japanese film of the early 1940s. There are elaborate sets and costumes evident here, but more importantly Mizoguchi used a lot of high-angled camera shots from a crane. This also required actors on the shoot to engage in many rehearsals for each scene so they could 'hit their mark' during the long takes commonly used in the film. However, there is no doubt that the film looks beautiful from a cinematographic point of view. The opening shot of Part Two, after the credits, is a wonderful tracking crane shot that lasts a full two minutes, something that was certainly unique for cinema in the early 1940s.

    Despite the financial loss of Part One, the government commissioned Part Two and held Mizoguchi's work in high-esteem, although Mizoguchi did have to compromise on his disdain for close-ups. In the second part of the film you will notice some shots that are taken from the waist-up. Technically, these shots are not close-ups, rather they are mid-shots, but they are so rare in this 214-minute film that they really do stand out.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is a port of the restored MK2 French release of The Loyal 47 Ronin in 2007.

    The aspect ratio is 1:33:1 full-frame, not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    The main feature has been divided into two parts on two dual-layered DVD's. Part One is a 5.3 gb transfer, 107:15 in length with an average bitrate of 6.74 m/b pr sec. The bitrate does not go below 5.25 m/b per sec so compression is excellent and film grain is minimal. Part Two is a 4.47 gb transfer, 106:32 in length with an average bitrate of 5.73 m/b per sec. The bitrate on Part Two does not tend to go below 5 m/b per sec. Despite the digital restoration on the film, the video transfer is still soft at times, possibly exacerbated by Mizoguchi's use of long shots which bring the background sets into focus but do not focus on the main characters in a scene, who are always shown in a long-shot.

    There are minimal contrast fluctuations at times, mainly these are more evident during scene transitions.

    A photo-chemical restoration would have restored the clarity of the video transfer better, however, the digital restoration itself, done by MK2, has done a splendid job of keeping film artefacts to a very bare minimum. You only see negative white artefacts and lines across the screen during Part Two of the film.

    Subtitles are presented in a default white option, although you may choose to view the film with alternate yellow subtitles.

    The RSDL change occurs at 74:21 for Part One and 61:43 for Part Two, both during scene changes.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The soundtrack is minimal. There are very few scenes that feature diegetic (sounds from within the film) or non-diegetic sound (i.e mood music to heighten dramatic tension from outside the film).

    The main audio track is a Japanese mono track encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps. The other audio track is Dr. Adrian Martin's English audio commentary, which is also encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps.

    Due to the age of the film, dialogue is not always easy to decipher. Sometimes it is slight muffled due to background hiss in the audio transfer. Other times the dialogue is clear when hiss is absent.

    The music soundtrack, composed by Shirô Fukai, was added in post-production. Although this film is meant to be a melodramatic film, it is not achieved by a sentimental 'Hollywood-style' orchestral score, rather key scenes are scored to signify their importance to the plot of the film. Both western 'string-based' scores and traditional Japanese 'flute-based' scores are employed in the film.

    There is no surround channel usage as the main Japanese soundtrack is essentially mono.

    The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio commentary by Dr Adrian Martin, Senior Research Fellow, Film and Television Studies, Monash University and co-editor of ROUGE magazine www.rouge.com.au

    This is another thoroughly engaging and well-researched audio commentary by Dr. Adrian Martin done for the benefit of Madman's Directors Suite label. Dr. Martin admits early on that the plot is difficult to follow, perhaps due to Mizoguchi's slow pacing, and it required him to view the film 3 or 4 times to familiarise himself with the finer points of the film. In between Dr. Martin quotes from distinguished film critics such as Tag Gallagher, David Bordwell, Andre Bazin and Jacques Rivette. He also makes many references to Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema by prominent Japanese film critic, Tadao Sato.

    The cinematic style of Mizoguchi is discussed at great length, especially the use of long takes for each scene. Dr. Martin discusses the rarely used 360-degree cut where scenes are cut from the opposite angle of the scene, the lack of close-ups, tracking shots and the uncommon use of actors having their backs turned in the foreground of a scene in dialogue. Also mentioned is the tracking of the main camera which does not always follow the main character of a scene. Kenji Mizoguchi's career and life is also discussed, including his complex personality, which championed compassionate and reflective action but could be abusive and perfectionist in nature, making him difficult to work with.

    The emphasis on dialogue and not action, the critical and financial failure of the film, the use of ellipses (i.e omitting key plot points from the film) are also expounded upon in detail by Dr. Martin. It is a difficult task to engage a viewer for a film that is as slow-paced as this over the length of 214 minutes but Dr. Martin does a sterling job in this regard. As an aside, as I'm aware of Dr. Martin's critical appreciation of Sergio Leone's final cinematic masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in America, it is my sincere hope and plea that Warner Bros employ Dr. Martin to produce an audio commentary for that 4-hour film, when the film is released eventually on Blu-ray, to replace the commentary on the 2-disc DVD version by film critic and historian Richard Schickel. This commentary on The Loyal 47 Ronin is a testament to Dr. Martin's pre-eminence as an expert film commentator, equal in my opinion to Tony Rayns or Peter Cowie.

Directors Suite Trailers

    Four trailers are included for Fallen Angel by Otto Preminger , Brute Force by Jules Dassin, The Bad Sleep Well and Maadadayo by Akira Kurosawa.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The film was previously released as The 47 Ronin in Region 1 in the United States by Image Entertainment without extras. The transfer was excessively soft and had much more film artefacts than the Region 4 Madman Directors Suite release. This release in now Out of Print.

    In 2007 MK2 released The Loyal 47 Ronin in Region 2 in France. This is available as a single 2-disc release or in a 4-disc box-set with The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums and Osaka Elegy. The 2-disc standalone release includes a 6-minute introduction by Charles Tesson, a 50-minute discussion with Christophe Gans, a 14-minute featurette on the history of the 47 ronin in Mizoguchi and a 21-minute feature highlighting key scenes with commentary by Charles Tesson. The 4-disc box-set includes similar introductions and commentaries by Charles Tesson with the addition of 29-minute discussion with Jean Narboni on Osaka Elegy.

    As stated, the Region 4 Madman Directors Suite label release of The Loyal 47 Ronin has the same restored transfer as the Region MK2 French release with the addition of the exemplary audio commentary unique to Region 4 by Dr. Adrian Martin. The Region 4 release is the standout release for English-speaking fans of Mizoguchi's cinema, but if you can speak French, the Region 2 Mizoguchi Coffret 4-disc box-set release, including The Loyal 47 Ronin, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums and Osaka Elegy is similarly outstanding.

Summary

    The Loyal 47 Ronin is a famous historical legend of Japanese society which needs to be told on film with action rather than dialogue. Hence, in my opinion, although I can appreciate Mizoguchi's filmmaking style on this film, there are better films which do justice to his long-takes and melodramatic themes such The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, The Crucified Lovers, The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei and Street of Shame. One shouldn't judge Mizoguchi's use of slow pacing on this film too harshly as it doesn't exemplify his unique filmmaking method.

    Don't let The Loyal 47 Ronin dissuade you from having a look at Mizoguchi's other melodramatic films released onto DVD by Madman's Directors Suite label in May and June, 2010 such as The Crucified Lovers, Street of Shame and The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei. It is also my sincere hope that The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu get decent DVD releases in Region 4 in the near future. In the meantime we can be thankful for Madman's releases onto DVD in Region 4 of Kenji Mizoguchi's great films.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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