47 Ronin is a cinematic adaptation of a Japanese folktale. While the film is based on a true story, it has a fantasy twist which places it into a mythical world of witchcraft, Ogres, and beasts. Univarsal first announced the project back in 2008, so it’s taken about five years to appear on our cinema screens. Was it worth the wait? I’m currently undecided.
The story revolves around Lord Asano and his samurai. They find Kai, a half-breed child (Japanese mother, British father) and take him to live with them in the castle of Ako. Many years later, Asano welcomes the Shogun of Japan into his home, but is bewitched into hurting a powerful official, and therefore is punished into commiting seppuku (suicide). The samurai are forbidden from taking revenge for thier masters death, and are banished from their lands. After two years have passed, and realizing that Lord Kira and his witch were behind this evil plot, the 46 leaderless samurai, along with Kai (Keanu Reeves), seek vengeance to restore honor to their people.
The initial trailer looked fast paced and action packed, though personally I was most excited to see Keanu Reeves in something new – the last movie I saw him in as the leading role must have been The Day the Earth Stood Still. I actually felt that he seemed a little out of place, playing more of a supporting role to Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada (Oishi). Reeves was impressive in the fight scenes, but was characteristically impassive in most other scenes, especially at points when he was supposedly in undying love with Mika. An occasional peck on the check didn’t hugely convince me that he was ready to die to protect the woman he desired.
The martial arts and sword fights made up most of my favourite scenes. Each were choreographed incredibly well and they looked authentic as well as exciting. I specifically liked a particular scene where Kai is on a slaving boat fighting an Ogre, going on to dual Oishi, until they manage to escape. One thing I would say is that there just weren’t enough of these scenes in the film. There were so many of Reeves and the Samurai sitting around and discussing their quest, some of these should have made room for more action, which is what you would expect from a movie about Samurai.
The effects were relatively impressive as well, especially the floating silk dresses. The evil witch had the ability to shapeshift, and while her transformation into a fox was a little unispiring, her transformation into a dragon was beautiful, with flowing silk that curled and weaved like water until it formed a Chinese Dragon. The rest of the mythical beasts were also great. CGI in this movie was top notch. The only exception was the half eagle, half voldemort looking demon monks. They were definitely a bit on the cheesy side.
As a whole, I really enjoyed the film, I just don’t think casting Keanu Reeves did anything for it. Omitting him would have kept a much more traditional feel, whilst still having excitment from the fantasy aspects of the movie. Also, they still all die. I’m not sure why they had to wait two years to decide to take vengeance when the outcome would have still been the same.