Re-Watch: 47 Ronin (2013)

47 Ronin
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
Seen on: 16.10.2022
[Here’s my first review.]

Content Note: racism, sexism

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.

Another re-watch brought to you by me absolutely not remembering having seen a film and not realizing until I am pretty much done with it that I have. If I had remembered it, I probably wouldn’t have watched it again. It just isn’t that good. That being said, I do think I liked it a little better now than ten years ago.

The film poster showing Kai (Keanu Reeves) posed over several other characters in the film, as well as a burning fleet of ships.

Several issues remain that can’t just be talked away, starting with the misleading poster, with having Kai and Keanu Reeves in a Japanese story (hello racism), and with the sexism in the portrayal of both Mika and “the witch” (who remains nameless, I think) that clearly sets out who the good women are (demure, graceful, loyal) and the bad (sexy, possibly queer, power-hungry, literally dragons). Since they are the only two women of note in the film, there really is no room for anything else.

But I think I appreciated Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi so much more than I did the first time watching the film. I mean, half of my old review is me gushing about Kikuchi, but possibly, she’s even better than I thought at first. And Sanada is just a dream no matter what he does, making it a double tragedy that Ôishi’s film is stolen by Kai.

Kai (Keanu Reeves) and Mika (Ko Shibakasi) sharing a moment.

Still surprisingly fantastic were the effects, especially whenever the witch transforms into fabric or anything else. That is just beautifully done and it still works. Other than that, the film looks pretty nice and has some memorable images (or so I am saying now, having watched it a second time and almost entirely forgotten the first).

The narrative itself, though, is not great and hasn’t gotten better in the last 10 years. The pacing isn’t right, and the film lags here and there. It also has trouble with introducing the ronin and keeping them as separate characters for the audience. So, I really wouldn’t say this is a masterpiece, but it is okay and I don’t regret re-watching it, even if it wouldn’t have been a big loss if I hadn’t. I think the same goes for seeing it the first time.

Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the ronin.

Summarizing: okay.

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