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Analysis of Structuralism in 47 Ronin

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2749 words Published: 10th Oct 2017

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  • Capritia Dirgantari



Media or medium in singular form is the main means of mass communication that addressed to society. The author chooses 47 Ronin directed by Carl Rinsch to be the focus of this analysis which specified to discuss the ‘American dream’ that reflecting from this film. The objectives of this analysis are to identify, describe and analyze influences that given by media to the society. The author uses descriptive as the method of this analysis and applies Structuralism theory to examine the scenes of this film that represents the ‘American dream’. Structuralism theory emphasizes how films deliver its meaning by the utilization of languages that are used to establish purposes in communication. The result findings show that film as one of media represents ‘American dream’ that related to the society mindset, unconsciously or consciously. The author hopes the readers get better understanding of Structuralism theory in analyzing a film and comprehend the meaning of ‘American dream’ that influencing the societies.

Keywords: Media, Film, American dream, Structuralism


The influence of mass media has grown exponentially with the advance of technology. First there were books, newspapers, magazines, photography, sound recordings, films, radio, television, and internet.Nowadays, everyone depends on information and communication to keep their lives moving through their daily activities like work, education, entertainment, personal relationships, and the other stuff with which we are involved.Societies gather much information that they needed from those media sources. Raymond Williams estimates that media can be defined in three senses: historical sense; technical sense; and etymological sense. Historical sense is an intervening substance or agency and technical sense means medium as communicating message to public. Williams also defines etymological sense of the media as a capitalist sense which developed during the nineteenth century (Williams, 1983). Media became profitable enterprises during this era because its commercials features produce generating business for example like advertisements, video clips, and films. America was one of the capitalist states that introduce the famous term of ‘American Dream’ and tons of films have been made in here. The author chooses a western film entitled 47 Ronin directed by Carl Rinsch as the main focus of this analysis to interpret how big ‘American Dream’ influences the public from the structure of this film.

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47 Ronin is a 2013 American fantasy action film representing a fictional account of the real group of ronin—a samurai with no master—in 18th era of Japan, who revenged the death of their lord commonly called as ChÅ«shingura. This film was directed by Carl Rinsch and produced by Universal Studios. 47 Ronin costs $152 million for making all scenes and visuals which crowned as the second most expensive box office ever behind The 13th Warrior film (Kit, 2012). Another favored feature of this film is the protagonist character was acted by famous actor Keanu Reeves and other five Japanese actors: Sanada Hiroyuki; Rinko Kikuchi; Tadanobu Asano; Jin Akanishi; and Kou Shibasaki. Universal Studios chooses those five Japanese actors to create better storyline and more genuine than choosing actors who was too mainstream in the United States, even though the scenario in this film giving no resemblance to the origin story of ChÅ«shingura. This film broadly tells about a group of ronin who revenge to the death of their master. The story begins when Lord Asano accompany with samurai of Ako, find an unknown boy—Kai—and allow him to stay in province of Ako. Years later, Lord Asano arranges welcoming event dedicated to the arrival of the Shogun and Lord Kira in Ako. After that, conflicts emerge until Lord Asano penalized to obligating suicide by the Shogun’s order, called as Lord Ieayashu. Time after time the groups of ronin realize this tragedy happened because of Lord Kira, then the group of ronin led by Oishi and Kai sets up for revenge against the Shogun’s order (Dresner, 2013).

The author chooses this film because it reflects the definition of ‘American Dream’. The definition of ‘American dream’ in this analysis is someone’s struggle for achieving a high position to become recognizable by other people and it has triggered the passion of people from generation to generation (americanradioworks.publicradio.org, 2015). American dream popularized by American people and it is also valid for everyone from other countries to find their opportunities in foreign countries. The American dream offers the freedom of each people to make decisions that render better life; the freedom to wish better dreams; the freedom to gaining prosperity; and the opportunity to lead a dignified life (Adams, 1931). Hence, the author uses Structuralism theory in order to find out the main purpose of this analysis. The structuralism film theory explains in what manner films deliver its meaning by the utilization of languages that are used to establish purposes in communication (Storey, 2009). An example of this is to understand how combination of scenes can create an additional idea, in this case ‘the American Dream’ portrayed in this film and affecting the societies.


This chapter intends to analyze the implicit meanings from ‘American Dream’ in scenes of 47 Ronin by using Structuralism theory. Structuralism assumes a film or any other kind of media as a signifying system, a set of patterns or relationships within the society. First of all, the author gives a brief explanation about Structuralism theory used in media. Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder of modern structural linguistics in the 1960s, in his essay ‘Object of Study’ theorized his structuralism assessment of language and he also shows the basis of structuralism theory (Eagleton 84). This essay states the role of communication tracts which substituted from one person to other person. Saussure explains that someone must omit the individual act to understand this communication tract, which he has concluded it as social phenomenon (Saussure, 1959). This study related to Claude Levi-Strauss’ the ‘unconscious foundations’ of culture, he argues that to understand this structure we could correctly comprehend the meaning by discovering the value of myths (Levi-Strauss, 1968: 209). Myths purpose to provide stories that bring peace towards the existence of people. To understand the social meaning of a myth, Will Wright introduces the power of Western which symbolizes deep conceptualization of American social beliefs that contain of three stages: ‘classic’; ‘transition theme’; and ‘professional’ (Wright, 1975). The author describes each stage that mentioned above by proving some scenes taken from 47 Ronin film.

According to Wright, the ‘classic’ stage divided into sixteen narrative ‘functions’ (Propp, 1968) which are:

  1. The hero enters a social group

This happens in the prologue of 47 ronin film when Lord Asano the leader of Ako province saved Kai the protagonist character to live along with Ako society.

  1. The hero is unknown to the society

In the early beginning of this film, there are scenes that explain the unknown background of the protagonist character. The narrator said, “No one knows where is he come from or how he arrived in Ako province”.

  1. The hero is revealed to have an exceptional ability

After Lord Asano takes Kai to his territory, he said that he saw something special inside Kai that no one has seen before.

  1. The society recognizes a difference between themselves and the hero. The hero is given a special status

This occurs when Oishi, a ronin who asked help from Kai which at the first time Oishi underestimates him. And this recognition continues when Oishi gave him a sword which is inherited from Basho, a comrade who died.

  1. The society does not completely accept the hero

Unfortunately, one of the other ronin did not accept Kai’s existence in this group. He assumed that Kai is not a samurai and have no clear background of his life.

  1. There is a conflict of interests between the villain and the society

Meanwhile the antagonist character, Lord Kira has ulterior motive to reigns the Ako province by using witchcraft.

  1. The villains are stronger than society. The society is weak

In this film, Lord Kira has stronger troops and supernatural beings that can give adverse spells to Ako society. Contrast with Ako society who does not accept any witchcraft and they just rely on human strength.

  1. There is a strong respect between the hero and the villain

Both Lord Asano and Lord Kira has mutual respect as the leader of province and each year they arrange a friendly competition.

  1. The villains threaten the society

After Lord Kira made Lord Asano committed suicide—in this context commonly known as hara-kiri, Ako society has no power to avenge his death because it has a big risk to their future.

  1. The hero avoids involvement in the conflict

When Oishi asked Kai for help, Kai denied it because he feels underestimate at the first time. But then Oishi gives explanation that he was wrong.

  1. The villains endanger a friend of the hero

Lord Kira launched his second attack by trapping the ronin in a village. This raid laid to two victims of ronin.

  1. The hero fights the villains

In climax, Kai fight the supernatural beings and Oishi fight Lord Kira.

  1. The hero defeats villains

The result is the protagonist wins this battle.

  1. The society is safe

After beheaded Lord Kira’s head, ronin come home and Ako society is safe.

  1. The society accepts the hero

Ako society and other provinces are accepting Kai as one of the hero who saved Ako province. It is more visible again when Lord Ieyashu gives salute and respect Kai and other ronin as samurai.

  1. The hero loses or gives up his special status

In the final scene shows that Kai doing hara-kiri as well as the other ronin does in order to uphold the honor as a samurai.

These entire sixteen narrative functions give important role to finding the ‘American Dream’ that contains in this film. The author found that entire narrative functions represent the steps of someone’s struggle to achieve recognizable position within the society. And the second stage is ‘transition theme.’ According to Wright, ‘transition theme’ describes about the transition that happened in the protagonist character (Wright, 1975). For example in 47 Ronin, after Kai got banished to a foreign ship, he adapted with his surroundings by keep fighting with other bandits which contrast with his first personality in Ako province. The last is ‘professional’ stage which means as the official position of the protagonist that gives professional identity. This is happened when Kai got recognizable position from the society of Ako province as samurai. Each of the stages that mentioned by Will Wright are interrelated and what has been experienced by the protagonist symbolize the definition of ‘American dream.’ According to James Truslow Adams’ book entitled The Epic of America, he states that the American dream is “a dream which life should be better for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (Adams, 1931: 214-215). That is to say, anyone have their right for having big dreams which led them strive to realizing their dreams and how fast they could achieve it depends on the ability of each person.


This conclusion intends to follow up the result of this analysis. Structuralism theory that used to analyze a film entitled 47 Ronin is capable in revealing how the western film industries influence the viewers through the three stages mentioned by Will Wright. Each type of these stages articulates its own mythic version of how to achieve the American dream. The first stage is ‘classical plot’, it defines the structure of human achievement by bestowing the relationship, respect, and dignity to differentiate yourself from others. The second stage ‘transition theme’ argues that companionship and love are alongside with the social status of someone and this stage also reveals how someone’s life change and get a different social status. The last stage is ‘professional plot.’ This stage argues that respect and companionship are to be achieved only by becoming one of the professional groups. The member of professional group must accept any obligation, responsible of the task that is offered, has solidarity to the team, and not competing with the same comrades in any social values. These three stages are representing the ‘American dream’ that is influencing the society nowadays. According to Levi-Strauss, he mentioned that the myth of a society through their structure reveals the communication of a theoretical demand to the members of that society (Wright, 1975: 17). Film portrays reality and reality portrays films. Moreover, the readers should notice that the world is the stage itself and everyone is merely the player. People have their own way to achieve their goals whether they become villain to the society like in ‘transitional theme’, become the ‘professional’ group of the society or maybe become both of them. Hopefully, this analysis can give deeper insight to the readers by knowing influences given by the media especially in a film like 47 Ronin.


Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. New York: Simon Publications, 2001.

Dresner, Jonathan. The Many Things “47 Ronin” Gets Wrong About Shogun-Era Japan (And the One Thing It Gets Right). http://www.historynewsnetwork.org/article/154304 USA: 2013.

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Ellis, Kate, Ellen Guettler. A Better Life: Creating The American Dream. http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/americandream/ USA: American Public Media, 2015.

Kit, Borys. Universal Pushes Back Keanu Reeves’ 47 Ronin. New York: The Hollywood Reporter, 2012.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. Hammondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968.

Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics. New York: Philosophical Library, 1959.

Storey, John. Cultural Theories and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 5th Ed. Pearson, 2009.

Williams, Raymond. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. Ed. New York: Oxford University Press,1983.

Wright, Will. Sixguns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western. California: University of California Press, 1975.


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