Director: Carl Rinsch
Writer: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini
Based on: the history of the 47 Ronin (very loosely)
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Keanu Reeves, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rick Genest
Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is the head samurai of Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), so when Asano dies due to Lord Kira’s (Tadanobu Asano) use of magic through a witch (Rinko Kikuchi), Ôishi becomes ronin. Against Shogun Tsunayoshi’s (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) express orders, Ôishi and the rest of the ronin decide to revenge their master. And for that they need the help of Kai (Keanu Reeves), a foundling who was taken in by Asano as a young boy who was always mistreated by the samurai but who has some incredible gifts. Kai agrees, mostly to save Mika (Ko Shibasaki), Asano’s daughter.
47 Ronin should have been a spectacle, close to I, Frankenstein in entertainment value and (lack of) intelligence. And while there were a few things that came close to spectacular and a few things that came close to pure stupidity, altogether it was pretty disappointing.
First let me talk about the marketing. Because what the hell was going on there? If you look at the poster, Ôishi – arguably the main character, not Kai [or at least equally important] – isn’t even on it. Instead you get Zombie Boy and the masked samurai who are in the movie for no more than two minutes. Put together. And the scene with the burning ships was neither central to the plot nor very long either.
But even leaving the misleading marketing aside, 47 Ronin didn’t hold what it promised. In fact, it was pretty boring. At one point I turned round to my friend and whispered “there could be some more action.” And if that happens in an action movie, something is going wrong.
It’s not that there wasn’t anything to appreciate about the film. Whenever Rinko Kikuchi came on screen, the movie took off (though it honestly annoyed me that yet again we get the story of the demure good housewives vs. the sexy evil witch). She was sexy (though they overdid that part a little and pushed a bit of lesbian queerbaiting into the story), hilarious and wonderful. Some of the visuals were awesome and the effects generally pretty good. One effect stands out, though, and that is the transformation back from the dragon which made me gasp. And for the inherent racism of casting Keanu Reeves and introducing a “half-blood” into a Japanese story who is integral to the success of the operation and is generally pretty special, they really managed to keep the Japanese spirit and the bushido intact (as far as I can tell, not being an expert in the field at all).
There were also moments where the film hits the hilarity expected from it. When the pretty-much-the-same-age-but-definitely-both-teenaged Kai and Mika grow up, for example, and suddenly there’s a 15 years age gap between the two. When the samurai ride through the same area in 10 different directions. When the 47 ronin turn out to be more like 20 people who keep dying but in the end, there are 47 again.
But in the end it wasn’t really enough to keep the film moving. Maybe if it had been shorter, but certainly not like this.
Summarizing: I’d rather watch I, Frankenstein again.