MOVIE: ** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
Keanu Reeves as KAI
Hiroyuki Sanada as ÔISHI
Kô Shibasaki as MIKA
Tadanobu Asano as LORD KIRA
Min Tanaka as LORD ASANO
Jin Akanishi as CHIKARA
Directed by: Carl Rinsch
BY KEVIN CARR
“47 Ronin” is the kind of movie that I am fascinated ever got made. Going by my perception of the film, my extremely limited knowledge of Japanese culture and what I’ve seen in the bonus materials provided on the Blu-ray, there were a multitude of warning signs along the way.
The film is not a good movie, though it’s not terrible to watch. Similarly, the story surrounding how it got made isn’t exactly a page-turner, either. However, the mere existence of the picture is somewhat mind-boggling as the movie is its own worst enemy.
The story retells the revered Japanese legend of the 47 Ronin who, after losing their master and being banished and forbidden to seek revenge, come after those who killed their master anyway. In the film, Keanu Reeves plays Kai, a half-breed who has a mysterious childhood and was raised by the samurai in a village. He grows up to fall in love with Mika (Kô Shibasaki), the daughter of the village leader Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). However, a rival leader Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) comes to town with eyes for Mika, and he manipulates the situation to disgrace Lord Asano and take control.
Kai is banished with Lord Asano’s samurai, forbidden to take revenge for what they know was a calculated attack. Using his history and knowledge of magic, Kai helps the 47 Ronin band together to attack Lord Kira, as well as the warrior witch (Rinko Kikuchi) who helps him.
At its heart, “47 Ronin” is a traditional samurai movie steeped in Japanese culture and legend. It plays out like one of many samurai films that have been made in the past. Cast with respected Japanese actors, the film struggles however with the fact that it imposes its own language barrier. The strong actors have difficulty delivering their lines in English, which weakens their performance.
Strangely enough, it’s Keanu Reeves’ presence in the film (which is ironically the reason the movie was green-lit in the first place) that causes the most confusion. His character was created for no other reason than to give him a part without doing something even more horrible like having him appear in yellowface. However, he’s superfluous to the plot of the film. The legend is not about 47 ronin and some white guy. The legend is about 47 ronin. Period.
This is partly why the character of Kai checks out of the film for about a half-hour in the middle. Thus, the film is both lacking focus and burdened with a bloated running time because it’s forced to service a character that shouldn’t even be there.
Knowing this, it’s no big surprise as to why the Japanese did not fawn over the film. In essence, it took a wholly Japanese story and kinda-sorta whitewashed it, but kinda-sorta didn’t. What’s left is a Frankenstein film cobbled together from what could have been two relatively compelling stories.
Additionally, while the fantasy elements were neat to watch on the screen, including a pretty thrilling monster hunt at the beginning and some impressive digital effects at the very end when the witch turns into a dragon, it’s ultimately insulting to the overall legend of the film by reducing it to a somewhat silly sword-and-sorcery piece.
The movie itself is visually exciting, and the 3D version on the Blu-ray is cool to watch for the bigger action scenes. However, for the intermediate dialogue moments (of which there are many), the 3D is unnecessary. Still, if you fast-forward to the money shots, it’s worth a watch.
Ultimately, “47 Ronin” is a glorious misfire, worth watching at some point but forgettable in the end.
The 3D Blu-ray and the Blu-ray both come with a DVD of the feature film with limited features, including deleted scenes and a somewhat arrogantly proud featurette called “Re-Forging the Legend.” On the Blu-ray itself, there’s the additional featurettes “Keanu & Kai,” “Steel Fury: The Fights of 47 Ronin” and “Myths, Magic & Monsters: The FX of 47 Ronin.”