Archive for the 47 rônins

Rashomon, plus 47 ronins, plus…

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2020 by xi'an

Another chance encounter (on Amazon) led me to read a graphical novel entitled Rashōmon, by Victor Santos. Which uses the same short stories from Ryūnosuke Akutagawa as Akira Kurosawa in his superlative film, if not with the same intensity. (The very first sentences are inspired from the first pages of the book, though.) And in a second part builds upon the tale of the 47 rônins which I read last summer in Koyasan. Plus a possible appearance of Miyamato Mushashi, the great 17th Century swordsman (depicted in two wonderful novels by Eiji Yoshikawa). While this is historically impossible, since Rashōmon takes place in the 12th Century and the 47 rônins acted in 1702, the theme cementing the story is the presence of a detective named Heigo Kobayashi, who “solves” both crimes but is nonetheless outsmarted by the novel “femme fatale”… Without a clear explanation as to how she did it.

While I found the rendering rather entertaining, with an original if convoluted drawing style, I was rather disappointed at the simplistic and Westernised adaptation of the subtle stories into a detective story. Calling upon (anachronic) ninjas as if the historical setting per se was not exotic enough. And the oddly modified role of the main female character into an Hammet-like heroin kills the ambivalence that is central to both Akutagawa’s and Kurosawa’s versions.

the (forty-)seven samurai (赤穂浪士)

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2019 by xi'an

During my vacations in Japan, I read the massive (1096p) book by Osaragi Jiro on the  Akō incident, with occidental title the 47 rōnins. Which I had bought in Paris before leaving. This is a romancized version of an historical event that took part in 1701 in the Genroku era. Where 47 rōnin (leaderless samurai) avenged the death of their former master Takumi no Kami ordered by the current Shôgun after Takumi no Kami stuck an official Kira Yoshinaka who had insulted him publicly. And were also condemned to commit sepuku. (As I suspected while reading the book, it was initially published in 1927-1928 as a series, which explains for its length.) This is a very famous story in the Japanese culture and there exist many versions in novels, plays, movies, one featuring the fabulous Toshirō Mifune (and another one commissioned by the Japanese military during WWII), and prints, including some by Hiroshige and Hokusai. Not only it is a great read, with a very classical style (in the French translation) and enough plots and subplots to deserve the 1096 pages!, but it also reflects [much more than in Yoshikawa’s Musashi] upon the transition from feudal to modern Japan, with the samurai class slowly dwindling out for the merchant class and a central administration. Which the central characters in the book mostly bemoan and hence praise the chivaleresque action of the 47 rōnins, fighting against superior forces, except for some who reflect on the uselessness of a warrior class (and go as far as assassinating random samurai). Interestingly, the conclusion of the real story, namely the suicide of the 47 rōnins, is not included in the book. Which links the head of the revenge to famous characters of the time, including a scholar anticipating the Meiji rise of Japanese nationalism by removing cultural and religious links to China, including the preeminence of Shintoism over Buddhism. The book is also the attention paid to seasons and gardens throughout, which is a feature I found in many Japanese books. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the story involves very few female central characters and, except for one spy, very passive roles.