Hollywood can’t help but re-write beloved myths and lore in ways that just rip away their greatness. 47 Ronin falls short of the history of the 47 lordless Samurai who exact revenge to honor their leader and land. This adaptation relies on stunning visual effects and stylized action sequences to compensate for its lack of story.
- Director: Carl Rinsch
- Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini
- Starring: Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kukuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kô Shibasaki, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Min Tanaka
- Music: Ilan Eshkeri
- Cinematography: John Mathieson
When Lord Asano (Tanaka) of Ako is bewitched and attacks corrupt Shogun Tsunayoshi (Tagawa), he’s compelled to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). His legion of Samurai, led by general Oishi (Sanada), vow to exact revenge and prevent Tsunayoshi from marrying Asano’s daughter Mika (Shibasaki) and take over Ako. That follows more or less the bones of the legend. However, in this version a Western created character is added, Kai the half-blood played by Reeves. He’s the outcast of Ako and in love with Mika. He’s taken in by Asano when he is a child but never included in his legion of Samurai because of his mysterious background. When he is grown, he follows Asano when he holds court with Shogun and sees the witch (Kikuchi) begin to lay out her plans with Tsunayoshi and tries to intervene. When he warns Oishi that a witch is at work, he’s brushed off until it’s too late and Asano attacks Tsunayoshi. A year after their lord’s suicide and Mika’s forced betrothal to Tsunayoshi, Oishi leaves his pit prison, tracks down Kai and his now 47 Ronin to stop the wedding.
- Visuals: The landscapes and effects are pretty decent but still generic. The action is stylized and like Sucker Punch, it just looks awesome. The action is well choreographed and are the visual highlights of the movie that will keep your attention. The inclusion of Japanese mythological creatures is an interesting choice. There’s a 3D bit with a spider that’s fun but that’s about it. The witch and her transformation sequences were also well done.
- Rinko Kukuchi: Earlier this year we were introduced to Rinko in Pacific Rim where she played an innocent but spunky heroine. She was great at being the kind of lead you could root for. In 47 Ronin, Kukuchi is dynamic as the witch. A true chameleon and so good at being bad. She savored the role with sexy cruelty that showed her range. Downright frightening and such a charismatic villain!
- Underused Characters: It wasn’t just Kukuchi’s witch who was underused but also Oishi and his son. They had much more at stake but Kai’s love story took focus. It would have been better if Oishi’s son was the male lead. It would have been more compelling if he and his father tried to bring honor to their land and family. Those themes are incredibly connected to the myth of the Ronin. It also would have made more sense for Mika to be the son’s love interest. The pay-off would have been greater. Some of the Samurai had potential to be cared about if they’d been developed more, making their deaths have impact. Also, Rick Genest (that tattooed fella) is in the trailers for longer than he is in the movie. He made the trailer look cool with his shot-gun skills but is only in the movie for one line.
- Reeves: He is once again playing a chosen one of sorts. While he has some nifty powers and fighting skills, there’s no emotional depth. His character does not add to the story or bring out the best of what the 47 Ronin are really about. If anything, their refusal to accept him and their taking credit for his help is an insult to what the warriors stood for.
- The Story: How do you make a generic Samurai fantasy from such rich source material? They took the 47 Ronin and made them back-up to Reeves’ poorly written magical lead. They created a character who did most of the work and took focus away from history’s greatest heroes. Their story is known throughout the world as one of the most influential tales of honor and loyalty. There’s no lesson in this film because the themes are diminished and bogged down by Hollywood spectacle.
This movie is really an affront to the lore of the 47 Ronin. It’s not an authentic re-telling and will not be passed down from generation to generation. It looks fantastic in the trailers and it was exciting to see Kukuchi in another film. But we would have loved to see a version without Reeves’ character that utilized everyone else in the cast. It’s a shame their talent was wasted in this film.
The Rating: 4/10
47 Ronin opens Christmas Day
Will you be seeing 47 Ronin this weekend?