(I begin this by offering the simple fact that I am a fan of anime and manga and live-action Japanese film and television … I believe this leaves me with a few biases, so take that into consideration, I guess.)
First of all: 11%? Rotten Tomatoes, that is bullshit.
Let’s start with promotional material shall we? This:
– is a poster used to promote the film. See the tattooed gun-wielder and the metal samurai as two of the four prominent figures on the image? Yes? Those two combined don’t hold 10 minutes of overall run time and the tattooed dude has something like two lines. Let me pull the racism/sexism card here for a second, this poster has two white dudes and a sexy lady. The VAST VAST VAST VAST majority of the cast is composed of Asian males. I guess the silhouette on the bottom is supposed to stand for them?
-is the better poster, with Kai (Keanu) and Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the two main characters. But Oishi should have been in front. Keanu is the name, no question, but Kai is a completely fictional character, while Oishi is the completely true-to-life “leader” (if you will) of the historical 47 Ronin. (Here’s the wikipedia article for anyone not familiar with the original story.)
The film did not make back the money they wanted. Keanu alone isn’t enough to sell a film, and they did too much trying to sell Keanu.
For those who don’t know the story (and who are, completely without judgement on my part, too lazy to click on the link above), let me give a brief summary. (I suck at brief summaries, if you haven’t noticed.)
In the 1700s Japan, the Feudal Lord of Ako, Lord Asano, under the Shogun attacked and wounded (but did not kill) one of the Shogun’s officials, Kira. Because this violated the Shogun’s laws, Lord Asano was invited to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), which was a way a samurai could retain his honor … or he could be executed by the hand of another, and that would violate the code they lived by so this would not be an honorable death.
Lord Asano’s men were ordered not to seek revenge on Kira. Without a lord, these men were now ronin or samurai without a lord (and suddenly the title makes sense!). Despite sharing the title with Wolverine (which Hiroyuki Sanada is also in!), this is an unwanted thing. The code they live by does not allow them to simply let the death of their Lord go, and so they enact a plan to kill Kira and take back the honor of their Lord, as well as their own.
It takes almost two years and a lot of self abasement, but eventually the deed is done. Kira is dead, and Lord Asano’s men have succeeded in their revenge. They have also defied the Shogun’s orders, so are criminals themselves. There’s argument on whether they did or did not fully abide by the samurai code in avenging their Lord (they took too long to do it, is the criticism) , but they are also allowed to preserve their honor through seppuku. And thus 46 men die by their own hands (one was pardoned but buried with his fellow samurai when he finally died).
Now, the movie takes that and adds a big fat dose of Japanese mythical creatures and mysticism. And a pretty girl. And Keanu Reeves. Of course.
47 Ronin (2013) has the same basic story, but Kira is also a feudal lord (like Lord Asano), Lord Asano has only one child, a daughter named Mika, Lord Asano is a foster guardian of a foundling, half-blood child suspected of being a demon (played by Keanu, of course) named Kai, and that Kai and Mika are in love.
I like the addition of the supernatural to the story. Mixing history and mythology has never really bothered me (I watched Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter after all). Books and movies do this all the time, manga does as well… make it historical manga, or heck, time traveling manga, whatever… I’m pretty sure Kagome met Oda Nobunaga (or someone connected to him) at some point in the Inuyasha series. I don’t think the addition of dragons and witches and Tengu hurt the story.
Actors and Characters
We’ll begin the the Shogun. He’s not in the film all that much, but who cares. He’s played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. That’s right, Shang Tsung is the Shogun.
He’s good at his job and looks the part. He’s also gotten old, and that is sad to me.
Hiroyuki Sanada, as said before, is the lead character Oishi. He’s absolutely fantastic. Tough when necessary, emotional when necessary. The scene (taken from the original history) between Oishi and his wife is beautiful. Simple, not exactly poetic, but beautiful. He acts well as a leader of soldiers in battle, and as a leader of samurai before their Shogun. His poise is impeccable, and he wears the armor well.
Min Tanaka played Lord Asano. He’s not as recognizable to many western viewers, but I think Twilight Samurai was popular enough that a few people might. He did a great job.
Tadanobu Asano (two Hiroyuki’s, two Asano’s let’s make stuff complicated!), who is most recently famous for Hogun in Thor (and Battleship, but we can forgive him that) and who is also going to be in a live-action adaptation of both Kiki’s Delivery Service and Lupin III, played the evil, greedy Kira. He did a fantastic job. He also rocked the HELL out of purple.
Kira was properly evil, I guess. Properly greedy. He snatches away Lord Asano’s daughter Mika so as to take Ako from her (by Confucian law, I’m not entirely sure she could have held the lands, she asks the Shogun if she can watch over them until she marries — not Kira — but why the heck isn’t she already? … moving on), and acts pretty snaky. He’s bonded to a witch. Bit over the top, but he looks hot in purple, so what does it matter, I guess?
Rinko Kikuchi (of Pacific Rim) is the sexy-green-robed Witch of the trailer and posters. She does an okay job, not fantastic, but not awful. The Witch was a fun addition adding color for the story and for her costume/shapeshifting. She feeds Kira’s ego, and runs about with prehensile hair and showing her legs, which are nice.
Kou Shibusaki is Lord Asano’s fictional daughter, and she does well playing the part as written, but I didn’t like the part. Mika was far too western for my tastes. She should be a Yamato Nadeshiko, a daughter of a Confucion, Samurai Lord. She’s a little too weak. She looked the part-
– and I have no problem with her going all Pocahontas on her dad, but she trembled and emoted over-much. This fictional woman, only child whose mother is dead, would have held the place of her mother, the lead female of her father’s lands. The character was acted (and probably written and directed) too young and too vulnerable.
The CGI in this was fantastic. Comparing it with say, The Hobbit (both one and two, but most recently, The Desolation of Smaug), this comes out on top, no question. And it does that because it has a dragon, it didn’t spend every cent of its graphic budget on that dragon, it still looked good, and everything else did, too. Probably the least realistic use was of Lord Kira’s castle, which is on a snowy mountain. It looked very much like set, whereas the dragon (pictured above, the one you totally wanted to be legs) and the first monster they fight –
– had great texture and color. The movement of the monster’s fur and prehensile tail, the light that colored it as it ran during the hunt, all of it worked. This was a moving fight where the creature was attacked on multiple sides and attacked others on multiple sides. And it felt completely seamless.
Then there was the tengu –
– who was just flat-out beautiful. If not what the classical (or even modern) view of what a tengu, a sort of bird-human demon, should look like. A beak or long nose, and wings.
Outside of the CGI the costuming was fabulous.
I cannot find hardly any costume-dedicated images on the web, and I wasn’t taking pictures in the theatre. Mika’s handmaidens, for example, were wearing white robes that had sakura branches on the back, the pink popped so beautifully.
I doubt this movie sees anything in the way of Oscar attention, but the costumes deserve it, in my opinion. The ceremonial stuff was beautiful, and the working garb was realistic.
Scenery was very interesting. This director, Carl Rinsch, is new to the game. This is credited as his first full-length film, and boy does he go for it. It’s pretty obvious that he’s going for a House of Flying Daggers look, where the color and tone are exaggerated to create a specific palette and mood for each location. I’ve mentioned before how I love to see this in a film, but Rinsch didn’t QUITE succeed.
The lovely and vibrant pink and red and blue and green Ako with Lord Asano vs. the gray and brown impoverished and struggling place without him was well imagined. The black and dirt of the Dutch Island. The mist and shadow of the woods where the ronin hide. The black and orange and ghostly fog of the tengu forest and temple, as well.
But Kira’s palace views were just too cartoonish, I think. Too dark, too snowy. But I like that this effort was made. I LOVE color (it can’t be said enough.)
The action was great, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of this, but it baffles the mind why. It’s well paced, exciting, has a lot of movement, not too much noise. Some of the more strategic fighting is slower, but that’s because it’s all sneak attack stuff.
Outside of Keanu being in the movie, the greatest complaint I’ve seen is that it’s boring. This is absurd. After we’re introduced to the world, Kai, and Mika (who need introducing because they’re fake) the first thing we see is a fight. Then we have a period of time where Lord Asano and his people prepare for the Shogun to visit Ako. This is all taken with ritual and ceremony, and I think that’s what slows a lot of folks down, but I found it very interesting. It’s possible that people are also bored with a lot of the deliberate motion that makes up a lot of that ritual. How objects are offered to different people, the way a man sits in his robes, the pause when bowing. It’s unfamiliar to many viewers, and for such a ritual-free society like the US the formal motions of placing hands on legs and bowing and rising all having their own timing is extremely unusual, and (for some people) uncomfortable.
Ex-pats in many countries can probably relate to this. I know I still have problems with how long to wai and where to hold my hands. I’m still too sloppy with it, I know. I have a friend who folds her hands so beautifully. Probably it’s my seeing that difference every day that makes me more patient with the simple rituals that do add seconds between dialogue.
Hey, speaking of:
I’m sorry, that’s too much. Oishi’s stuff is good. The Shogun’s lines are good. Lord Asano’s words are good. Kai and Mika? Shouldn’t be allowed to speak. Their whole script is straight from the “star-crossed lovers” playbook. That whole “I’ll look for you through ten thousand life-times” kinda thing. Please.
The Witch is also pretty cliche’d when it comes to dialogue. Basically any of the added characters had shit dialogue. Kira, too.
I thought that adding Keanu was a mistake. Kai adds nothing to the story. In fact, I feel that his little-lost-boy love-story subplot took away from it, but some of that was certainly the acting. It could have been fixed and kept and worked, but it wasn’t and it didn’t. They could have added supernatural elements (I’m ALL for adding dragons to ANYTHING) without adding Kai. And that’s what should have been done.
That said, I very much enjoyed it. My problem with The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug was that most of the movie failed to move me, emotionally. 47 Ronin made me cry. A lot.
The Hobbit – DOS gets 74% on RT. 47 Ronin? 11%.
Gotta disagree with the critics here, and also the majority of viewers (who are 86%/61%). I preferred 47 Ronin. It feels totally wrong to say it here, but it’s true. According to critical review, I have very bad taste in movies!
Whatever, I enjoyed it. Fucking 11%, where the fuck were their heads?