The Forty-Seven Ronin

Seppuku for the forty-seven /

Seppuku for the forty-seven /

At the beginning of the eighteenth century an incident took place in Japan that rapidly occupied the front pages of world (and worldly) newspapers. Indeed, the happening provided a powerful symbol of self-sacrifice and un-flinching loyalty during generations, even supplying the title of a major Hollywood film; this was Ronin, (1998)I believe the last movie directed by the aged but still brilliant John Frankenheimer. A re-telling of the incident in Japan is spoken during a key scene in the film by the French actor Michael Lonsdale, seated beside a fully equipped model of the castle and surroundings in Japan.

Nichael Lonsdale making his model in the film 'Ronin'

Nichael Lonsdale making his model in the film ‘Ronin’

   There was a violent quarrel at the Shogun’s court at Edo, between a noble at the court and a powerful official/warlord, in which the latter was lightly wounded. His pride insulted, the warlord ordered the suicide (seppuku deliberate self-disembowelment) of the noble, and sequestration of his properties. Both the orders were carried out, which left the swordsmen who had served the noble as ronin, which means masterless samurai. Their honour and status thus denied, the warriors (forty-seven of them) decided to take revenge.

   The plan to kill the warlord took two years to develop, but at last the forty-seven found a way into the warlord’s fortress and killed him and several others, in 1703. They knew that for this act they would themselves be condemned to death, so they committed suppuku themselves, one by one, under the castle’s battlements. For this courageous act of loyalty towards their dead master, the ronin became heroes in Japan, which they have remained to this day.

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