Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 23rd, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, October 28th, 1978
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Kôji Takada
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kinnosuke Nakamura, Tsunehiko Watase, Masaomi Kondo, Toshirô Mifune
DVD Released: August 2nd, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 158 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Japanese
DVD Release: Adness/Ventura
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
Synopsis: On the eve of the ceremony to give the imperial sword to Tsuna Yoshi Japans fifth shogun a quarrel erupts between Lord Kira spews insults in the direction of Lord Asano. Unable to control his rage Lord Asano attacks Lord Kira cutting his once on the face and back before his is finally restrained. The shogun then decrees that Lord Asano be sentenced to death via Hara-Kira while Lord Kira is let off with nothing more then a slap on the wrist for his actions. The shogun also orders that the Ako castle be closed down and that the Asano clan be disbanded with the of the clans former assets seized by the shogun. The Asano clan is obviously enraged by the one sided verdict and under the guidance of Kuranosuke Ohishi defy the shoguns order as they proceed with a revenge plot against Lord Kira to avenge their fallen master.
The tale of forty seven Ronin who defied the shogun in their quest for vengeance for their fallen master has had several big screen adaptations with Toho’s 1962 adaptation Chushingura: 47 Samurai being the most famous version know to western audiences. Kinji Fukasaku is no stranger when it comes to recreating historical events or mythical figures in Japanese folk lore. He has the knack of mixing fantasy with reality to such a degree that is hard to tell what elements is pure fiction vs. fact.
Through out the film Fukasaku utilizes the scope photography to its fullest as exploits the lavish sets and intricate fight choreography. His direction is fluid as the camera merely observes and never feels forced in its placement. Legendary actor Toshirô Mifune is remarkable as Tsuchiya the shogun’s right hand man and as usual Mifune commands attention in every scene that he appears in. Fukasaku is reunited in Swords of Vengeance (The Fall of Ako Castle) with one of his favorite leading men Sonny Chiba the Klaus Kinski of Asia. Although his role in this is minimal and nothing more then a cameo Chiba’s presence is so strong that even when he is only mentioned one gets chills. Chiba plays Kazuemon Fuwa a samurai warrior who used to be one of the Asano Clans top swordsmen until he was banished for killing a man. Chiba spends most his screen time showcasing his sword fighting skills as his character is a man of very few words. This film also sees Chiba play yet another character that assumes the role of a mentor as he takes Chikara Oishi under his wings and teaches him the way of the samurai. The strongest performance in the film belongs to Masaomi Kondo who plays Hashimoto a samurai who becomes crippled and then in self pity loses himself in alcohol. Swords of Vengeance (The Fall of Ako Castle), has a perfect story arch that never becomes dull or let up as the story line moves along quickly.
Adness presents Swords of Vengeance (The Fall of Ako Castle) in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors look nicely saturated and vibrant through out. The black levels remain strong with an exceptional amount of detail in every frame. Flesh tones look healthy and grain is kept to a minimum. There are no problems with artifacts or compression and there is no noticeable edge enhancement present during playback. Once again another remarkable from Adness by raising the bar with this DVD release making it one of their best transfers to date.
This DVD comes with only one audio option the films original Japanese language track presented in a Dolby Digital mono. The dialog sounds crystal clear with no problems with hiss or distortion. The music and sound effects are evenly balanced as neither ever drowns out the other. The action sequences which there are plenty of make full use of the front channels and offer a surprisingly robust considering the limitations Dolby Digital mono. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand.
Extras for this release are limited to trailers for other Sonny Chiba releases like Shogun’s Ninja, Shogun’s Shadow, Shogun’s Samurai, The Executioner and the original theatrical trailer for Swords of Vengeance (The Fall of Ako Castle). All of these titles are currently available through Adness except The Executioner which set to be released late this year. Adness delivers once again with another fine release that comes with first rate audio/video giving fans of this film a chance to see it not only at an affordable price, but in its best home video presentation to date. Swords of Vengeance (The Fall of Ako Castle) is an epic tale that is filled with an amazing ensemble cast making it one of the best Edo period film that I have seen to date.