Director: Shigemichi Sugita
Screenplay: Yozo Tanaka, from Shoichiro Ikemiya
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Koichi Sato, Nanami Sakuraba, Narumi Yasuda
Print Source: Kadokawa Shoten Co, Ltd
It’s a legend but not a myth, the Chushingura — that famous tale of the Ako fiefdom’s 47 samurai who, to avenge their lord’s dishonour and forced suicide, plotted and executed a daring assault on the estate of his nemesis at the turn of the 18th century. Their true story, emblematic of the Bushido code of honour and Japanese sense of loyalty, discipline and sacrifice, has been adapted to print, stage and screen countless times. Having avenged their lord, their code dictated that they collectively commit seppuku, or ritual suicide. Forty-six of the ronin did so. Only one, Kichiemon Terasaka, was instructed to refrain, that he might bear witness to their bravery.
This engaging, speculative coda to the tale of the 47 ronin finds Terasaka 16 years later, nearing the end of his journey. On his way to Kyoto for the annual memorial service, he crosses paths with a man who may be — must be — Magozaemon Senoo, another of the Ako samurai who disappeared right before the fateful night of violence. Was this simply cowardice? Betrayal? Or did this man, now living humbly and discreetly as an amiable antique dealer, have a secret of his own? He shares his home with a young woman, Miss Kane, upon whom he dotes like a father. Attending the puppet theatre she so loves (an added delight for the film’s audience), Kane catches the eye of a handsome young scion of a wealthy merchant clan. That which has been hidden for so long cannot remain so for much longer…
Poetic yet plainspoken, understated yet piercing in its poignancy, THE LAST RONIN stands in stark contrast to the cold, cruel abstraction so common in the Japanese film genre called chanbara (literally, “swordfighting” movies). A haunting and deeply humane work, it tugs at the threads of guilt, loneliness, affection, debt and desire that bind together its characters, so richly evoked by an exceptional cast. Award-winner Koichi Sato (THE SHONEN MERIKENSACK, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO) offers a moving turn as Terasaka, while Magozaemon is magnificently portrayed by Koji Yakusho, of BABEL, SHALL WE DANCE? and, notably, Takashi Miike’s recent 13 ASSASSINS, a far bloodier chunk of vendetta-driven chanbara, also at Fantasia this year. THE LAST RONIN succeeds in tugging away the mask of the stoic samurai and revealing how an impossibly perfect code of conduct can affect the imperfect creatures we people are.