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Chūshingura: The 47 Ronin From Puppet Play to Hollywood and All the Way to AKB48 (Or Not Quite?)

Luk van Haute
language: English
subtitles: Polish, English, Dutch, Finnish, Italian
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Intro

Ever since "the true story" of the 47 ronin was first fictionalized as a puppet play, only a few years after the actual events, it has enjoyed greater popularity than any other samurai tale. Up until today, new adaptations of Chūshingura keep appearing in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of media. Through the centuries, the story has also sparked political, ideological and other controversies, for at the core lies the quintessential dilemma caused by giri and ninjo, in English often explained as social obligation versus personal feelings, but in fact much more complex than that.

What was/is more important: obeying the law or loyalty to one’s lord? And what lessons did the acts of 47 masterless samurai in the early eighteenth century have to offer the Japanese soldiers in the modern wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Were they criminals or prime examples of virtue? Opinions remain divided, as we will notice in various examples from numerous film versions. 

In 2013, even Hollywood adapted the story with Keanu Reeves in the lead. But can we also see a connection with the contemporary idols of AKB48?

Luk van Haute

Luk van Haute is an expert on Japan as well as a columnist, film expert and translator of literature by authors including Haruki Murakami. He studied Japanology at Ghent University and Comparative Culture and Literature at the University of Tokyo. He has spent many years in Japan employed at a film production company, while regularly contributing to newspapers, magazines, radio and television on the subject of Japanese culture and society. For an anthology that he compiled and translated called "Love’s Death in Kamara and other Japanese Stories" he was awarded the 2015 Filter Translation Prize.

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Further reading

Japanese Classical Theatre in Films (1994) by Keiko Mc. Donald. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 355 pp.

Yukio Mishima on Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan (1977) by Yukio Mishima, translated by Kathryn N. Sparling. Souvenir Press, 166 pp.

I Am a Cat (2002) by Soseki Natsume, translated by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson. Tuttle Publishing, 638 pp.

The Forty-seven Rōnin: The Vendetta in History (2018) by John A. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 320 pp.

Plays:

Goban Taiheiki (1706) by Chikamatsu Monzaemon

Kanadehon Chūshingura / The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (1784) by Takeda Izumo et al.

Films:

Hana Yori Mo Naho / Hana - The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai (2006), dir. Koreeda Hirokazu

Jitsuroku Chūshingura / True Record of the Forty-seven Ronin (1928), dir. Makino Shōzō

Yūkoku / Patriotism: Rite of Love and Death (1966), dir. Mishima Yukio

Genroku Chūshingura / The 47 Ronin Aka the Treasury of Loyal

Retainers of the Genroku Era (1941), dir. Mizoguchi Kenji

47 Ronin (2013), dir. Rinsch Carl

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