American-Japanese fantasy action with a comic-book sensibility, featuring mythical beasts, shape-shifting witches, shaolin-space-alien monks, a cave troll from LOTR; and Keanu Reeves as half-breed sword-slinger Kai doing a bit of super-powered Matrix-ing as a Samurai Messiah. Again.
Look down the list on my movie site and you’ll see I love Eastern cinema; clearly so do the producers of 47 Ronin, which is presumably why they’ve lashed together this Kurosawa-Manga-anime-Tolkien mash-up with a big American star name and a huge budget. Unfortunately what they’ve produced is more Cowboy and Aliens than The Hidden Fortress, Hero or Thirteen Assassins.
It looks stunning in every frame but, boy, it’s all over the place.
Based on an actual 18th Century revenge tale of the 47 Ronin, production began so long ago, the Shogun was still running Japan; you know that this kind of effects-laden behemoth takes a while to complete, but this took so long you know the script was in trouble, even before the uneven and decidedly hokey final cut arrived.
Kai is a foundling, a mixed-race child taken in by a Samurai lord, and raised as a man-servant with a talent for slaying giant buffalo-stag-gorgon-minotaur… things. When the Shogun visits, bringing treacherous rival warlord Kira and his sorcerous sidekick Mizuki (played with villainous relish by Rinko Kikuchi), trouble follows and Kai’s master is forced to commit sepuku. Kai is sold into slavery and the loyal house captain Oishi imprisoned, his troops banished.
One year later and they’re all back on the revenge trail as masterless Samurai, the 47 Ronin, on a suicide mission to avenge their master.
Forget the doomed love affair between Kai and his Samurai princess Mika (a magnetic but underused and permanently teary damsel-in-distress, Kou Shibasaki), I’m sure Canoe Reeves has been good in something since Bill and Ted, I just can’t remember what.
Reeves is sidelined from his own vehicle by his own distracted bemusement and by the the magnificent, charismatic Japanese cast around him.
The Japanese actors play this 3-D fantasy version of a revenge-tragedy absolutely straight-faced, in the grand tradition of Kabuki theatre; they get it, with no help from the script, the studio or Reeves’ plodding Western saviour, thank you very much. Hiroyuki Sanada steals the show as the embodiment of the Bushido code, Oishi. In any classic 50’s or 60’s Samurai movie, he would have been the lead, dispensing with Reeves entirely.
47 Ronin has been called humourless and bleak; I can deal with that, it is wholly within the Samurai genre, in which things usually end in death all round, bar the young survivors to carry on after.
The effects-heavy 3-D has it’s highlights, with some excellent fights scenes and the climax when Mizuki takes flight in a tangle of swirling silks and transforms into a dragon (no spoiler, its in the trailer).
I don’t know who decided Carl Erik Rinsch is a “visionary director” (a term of mild derision around here), but it usually means ‘delivers spectacular, incoherent trash but can’t direct actors’. I don’t know how much the Studio hacks tinkered and interfered, or whether the original concept was any better than this.
47 Ronin (2013)
Director: Carl Erik Rinsch
Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Running Time: 118mins
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi
Related: The Hidden Blade