REVIEW: 47 Ronin
Properly channeling Japanese culture for American audiences has been a challenge given how different our tastes and expectations are. We find the content of much of their Manga and anime either not to our taste or outright incomprehensible. So, the challenge of adapting their bushido Edo-era and adding in some powerful fantasy into [[[47 Ronin]]] was going to be a challenge. Mix in American performer Keanu Reeves as a half-breed you have an uphill challenge in making the film palatable to enough moviegoers to justify the $170 million budget.
It has some terrific concepts and incredible visuals but it’s a mess of a movie, with a long, sluggish middle that loses the audience. Even amazing CG and a strong Asian cast can’t support a messy script.
The story, in short: Lord Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka) is disgraced after the efforts of Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), conspires with a shape-shifting witch (Rinko Kikuchi). He commits seppuku and Kira takes charge of Asano’s family by arranging for him to marry Asano’s daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki). She agrees to the marriage but extracts a promise to have a year to mourn her father. Asano’s 47 samurai has acknowledged the deviltry that befell their master and they become ronin, masterless samurai, vowing revenge. Enter Kai (Reeves), who just happens to be in love with Mika, who partners with Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the ronin’s leader.
While the action is swell along with some stuff I have not seen before, the characters are flat, one-dimensional. There are the brooding glances, clichéd dialogue, and predictable character beats that spoil the film’s potential. Much of this is a result of delays in shooting, studio interference and an emphasis on visual wonder and not enough on content. The film was a major bomb in the United States, bringing in under $40 million. As a result, you likely missed this last winter but can make up for it now with the Blu-ray release from Universal Home Entertainment. The video transfer is stunning with equally strong sound.
Clearly, the studio gave up on the film and went with a perfunctory suite of extras including four Deleted Scenes (8:00), which are interesting but easily excised; a brief Re-Forging the Legend (7:00); Keanu & Kai (4:00); Steel Fury (6:00), which looks at the film’s training, swordplay and battles; and Myths, Magic & Monsters (8:00).
The film is a curiosity and there are glimpses of what it could have been.