Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chushingura (1912) [Katsuben Talkie]

JP 1910-1912 D+SC+DP: Shozo Makino. C: Matsunosuke  Onoe, Ichinosho Kataoka, Kiraku Arashi, Kijaku Otani, Ichitaro Kataoka, Tomosaburo Otani, Yoshio Mizutani. PC: Nikkatsu (Yokota).  35 mm. 42’ at 24 fps. B&w. Versione giapponese / Japanese version. From: National Film Center – The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Saturday 24 July 2012, Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). E-subtitles in English by Eiko Mizuno, Jason Gray. Introduced by Alexander Jakoby. 

Alexander Jacoby & Johan Nordström: "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 (‘oldschool 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.""Alexander Jacoby & Johan Nordström

AA: In his introduction Alexander Jacoby stressed that this is a condensation of surviving material with a post-recorded benshi commentary.

This version of the movie is remarkable as a fascinating record of the art of the benshi. The benshi soundtrack is powerful and poetic, with charming passages of music and poems.

The visual quality is terrible. The images runs at overspeed, and they have been horribly disfigured long before the making of this print. They are shaky, chopped, rainy, and battered. At one point there are marks of water / nitrate damage.

The film has been made in the early cinema style of long shots and long takes, and it is often impossible to recognize faces in this print.

Yet there is an irresistible drive and cinematic passion in the movie. The scenes and tableaux are visually variable (a game of Go, the master's final ceremony, swords and daggers forbidden in the red light district, the scene with the children, the snow falling towards the finale, the incident by the river). The fight choreography is good and solid. The early cinema style is actually a benefit in this respect. In my opinion, action choreography is at its best in long shots and long takes.

A wild and memorable viewing experience.

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