47 Ronin (2013 Film) Review

47Ronin2012Poster

I love Samurai flicks!  I love Samurai stories!  I love Samurai mythology!  For a long period of my life I ate, drank, and peed Samurai mythology.  Those Japanese know how to tell a story!  That being said: No other story is more crucial to a country’s national identity than the story of the 47 Ronin.  The act of telling the story is so important to the culture of Japan there is just one word to describe it.

Chushingura. 

Imagine my excitement when I saw Keanu Reeves on one of those late night talk shows discussing the story of the 47 Ronin and that it was going to be a big blockbuster movie!  I was like, Hell yeah!  Neo is going to be Oishi!  No wait…he’s going to be Kai?  no wait…he’s going to be a half-breed master less Samurai?  Gah I still gotta see it!!!

Granted, the story of the 47 Ronin is an old one taking place in late era feudal Japan (my favorite era), so it’s subject to many reinterpretations.  I was expecting Hollywood to take a pretty liberal stance in retelling its own Chushingura.  I should have known something was up when they set to release it on December 25, 2013.  Gotta get that Christmas dollar.  So I should have seen the bait-n-switch coming as the American audience was deliberately misled into believing that our beloved Neo was going to be the star of a dull but beautiful narrative piece of trash.

I mean this pig was purdy!  It has lots of lipstick, a boob job, and implanted butt-cheeks.  

Unfortunately, no matter how much lipstick you put on pig.  It’s still a pig, and being down south, we BBQ our pigs so here comes the meat-less ribs review of 47 Ronin!

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Kai

Instead of putting Keanu up front, they should have been pushing the director’s talent at creating fantastical visuals and special effects.  He had a movie called “The Gift” that was just an amazing little film.  Carl Rinsch definitely brought something special to 47 Ronin, and was able to add a certain gothic grittiness to his vision of the feudal Japan.  I dare say it rivaled in visionary acumen to that of Tim Burton minus the pale skin and big black rings around everyones’ eyes.

So what went wrong?

As with all things it came down to money.  Universal had to re-strategize when the dollars for the film started to dry up and dry up fast!  The film was a huge mega-budget spectacle and like all those “geniuses” in Hollywood they think they need to go back in time and try old tricks that really just make you, the viewer feel dumb.

Remember back in the day a show called Kung-Fu starring David Carradine?  Well I’m sure you heard the story that Bruce Lee was originally supposed to portray the role as the show’s main character; however, Hollywood thinks we’re all idiots and didn’t want a Chinese guy playing a Chinese role so they grabbed up David Carradine.  Well…

The same dumb thing happened with this movie.  They threw Keanu Reeves at you so you would totally forget that the main characters in the film were themselves Japanese.  You were expected to believe that Reeves was supposed to play a character who was the products of a tryst between a Dutch sailor and a Japanese peasant, all in an attempt to draw your $10 from your pocket!

If you look at the poster of the movie you see the supporting character, Kai (Keanu Reeves) but no where on that poster where you will see the real star of the movie (a great Japanese actor himself) Hiroyuki Sanada!  Just scroll back up and look at it.  You won’t see him anywhere on there!

This screwed me up why?  Lemme tell ya why.  I watched the movie thinking Keanu Reeves was going to be the star of the film.  When the film starts you see Keanua doing his thing and then for some reason you find out he’s not even who the movie is even about.  This lead to confusion as to who the darn story was supposed to be about.  With the marketing strategy and the script of movie we were unwittingly led to believe the movie revolved around the point of view of a support cast member, but it’s okay because it points to racial intolerance for white-folk instead of good ol’ fashioned Bushido which is a staple in samurai flicks.

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Bad Ass Silver Samurai

Moving on from Keanu Reeves, I feel we must discuss Chushingura, or “47 Ronin”.  Chushingura is a tale that depicts Lord Asano (played by the very Japanese actor Min Tanaka), the Daimyo of Ako, as an elderly but fair ruler of his providence.  Lord Asano struck a royal guest of the Emperor who came to visit, and then was ordered by the Emperor to commit seppuku.  Lord Asano had 47 samurai under his command at that time and was then cast out and exiled by the Emperor.  The 47 samurai thus become master-less and were then known as ronin (a disgraced samurai).  These 47 Ronin spend a year in wilderness and one night return under the cover of night and perform an adventurous raid.  They avenge their master and then surrender to the Emperor who then force them to give up their lives as punishment for taking revenge.

The leader of these 47 ronin is Oishi (played by Hiroyuki Sanada-Japanese), whom turns to Kai (Reeves aka Neo) to join his group of ronin so that they may avenge their master.  Oishi is the main character of the story however, Neo *ahem* Kai is given the romantic subplot of the film, he also gets to slay a big CG buffalo early in the film, he gets to take on a pretty mean looking silver samurai golem, oh and a big ol’ freaking Chinese dragon!  Reeve’s performance seems kinda tired, it’s as if he knew he was totally out-of-place for this film and could do nothing but watch as millions of Universal’s dollars were being crapped all over the place. Kai’s romance seems pointless since at the end all the male leads take up ritual suicide.  Which in itself came off very weird.  I get they didn’t want to show Seppku on-screen but the way it was shot made you even wonder what the heck they were even doing.  It just didn’t feel right.

Oddly enough there was plenty of talent in the movie.  Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, and even that guy from Mortal Kombat Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.  All through the movie I kept anticipating Cary-Hiroyuki to break character and say stuff like “Let Mortal Kombat begin!” or “Finish Him!” during the Seppuku scenes.  So talent wasn’t an issue, there was plenty of that, however it was inappropriately distributed as crap throughout the landscape of Japan.

So there is talent, lore, and compelling visuals.  What more can we add to this?  Oh yes, witchcraft!  Director Rinsch brings in his own version of events in this Chushingura, which is fine, I like the direction. Rinsch brings in Rinko Kikuchi as some kinda devil worshiping witch with crazy demon powers and different colored eyeballs to boot.  The eyes ruined it for me however, the rest of her visuals were FANTASTIC.  The way they had her move around as a silk blanket flowing in the night wind, the spider she summons to poison Lord Asano (which starts the tragic story), and even when she turns into a crazed looking dragon near the climax of the film.  Even a few scenes with Kai doing his thing with the Tengu to get special swords, you find yourself wanting more and more of those visuals!  These were absolutely stunning visuals  and a testament to how visuals can be used to grab an audience and never let go until the credits roll.

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Stunning Visuals!!!

Hey I know 47 Ronin cost a lotta freakin’ money. There is no denying that but I am pleased to see that the money was used well in aspects of talent, soundtrack, and visuals.  The movie is kinda cramped, however.  Even though most of the movie is filmed outdoors you can’t help but feel crowded.  Even in shots where the 47 ronin are traveling as a group you only really see maybe five on-screen at a time.  You never really get to see all 47 of them together except for a couple of scenes.  It’s like the movie was talking about this big gang but you never get to see them.  However, towards the end when the 47 Ronin perform their raid it really becomes enjoyable.  I also enjoyed the soundtrack of the movie, gave it an old samurai flick feel.  I enjoyed the costumes and set designs, all were immaculately beautiful in design and made me want to dress up as a samurai and look stoic the entire night!

The CE Score Sheet (1-7)

Production Quality: 6

Cast: 4

Cinematography: 6

Soundtrack: 4

Story: 3

Re-watch-ability: 2

CE META SCORE: 4 Yeah, Okay. 

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Directed by Carl Rinsch
Produced by Pamela Abdy
Eric McLeod
Screenplay by Chris Morgan
Hossein Amini
Story by Chris Morgan
Walter Hamada
Starring Keanu Reeves
Hiroyuki Sanada
Music by Ilan Eshkeri
Cinematography John Mathieson
Edited by Stuart Baird
Production
company
H2F Entertainment
Mid Atlantic Films
Moving Picture Company
Stuber Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 6, 2013 (Japan)
  • December 25, 2013 (United States)
Running time
118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Japanese
Budget $225 million
Box office $151 million
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