47 Ronin is a highly fictionalized take on the story of the 47 ronin who took revenge on a court official who had the 47’s leader commit seppuku. In the film, Keanu Reeves portrays Kai, a half-British Half-Japanese outcast who is called upon by Oishi, the leader of the 47. The 47 seek revenge on Lord Kira, who also has an evil witch serving under him, who killed their master. For those who aren’t familiar with the 47 Ronin, this film does it’s best to bring the legend to the rest of the world. Although the film contains some great visuals, sets, music and costume design, infusing the story with fantasy elements and some new characters in an attempt up the action and appeal to a global audience is it’s greatest weakness.
The story of the 47 ronin is uniquely Japanese. It’s the concept of bushido and how much one, or many, is willing to tarnish their honor in order to restore justice. Unfortunately things have been simplified a bit too much and all we are left with is a rather typical action- driven revenge plot that could have benefited from being slightly more character-driven. The original story contains a much more intricate build-up to the final confrontation that not only tests the groups patience, but their leader’s resilience and cunning. Unfortunately, this film does away with these elements that made the original story so compelling. As good as the actors are (particularly Hiroyuki Sanada and Tadanobu Asano), i was definitely wanting more character development and drama throughout the film. Keanu’s character as an outcast is an interesting addition although he doesn’t really get much to do. His arc was fine but the character deserved more moments to shine. The villains were fine but could’ve been deeper. It would have been nice for Rinko Kikuchi’s character to have some back story in order to pit her against Keanu in a more emotionally driven confrontation. After all, these characters were created for the film, so why not add an extra layer of depth.
In other words, 47 Ronin is a faintly ridiculous addition to the wealth of Chūshingura – fictionalized accounts of the 47 ronin tale – that already exist in Japan. It’s the kind of big, dumb blockbuster in which the good guys literally live to die another day as long as the plot calls for it. These fearless ronin even survive when the villain is protected by a witch with crazy mystical powers! She can set an entire field on fire, create poisonous spiders and turn into a dragon! And the ronin – at least 47 of them – live anyway! I can understand the desire to want to do away with the philosophical musings of bushido and character drama in order to push the action and fantasy elements, but the action, although generally exciting and visually interesting, lacked impact. I feel they missed an opportunity to really showcase the awesome fighting abilities of the samurai, instead opting for some CGI creatures and demons and a couple of averagely-lit night battles. The cut-aways seemed to cheapen the experience for me, especially during the seppuku scenes. It seemed to have been framed a bit too closely and the sound was a bit off. No doubt in order to keep it’s pg-13 rating. Nonetheless, there were some truly moving moments and I found myself ultimately enjoying the film. Illan Eshkeri’s score helped elevate the film’s emotional scenes and I found myself with tears in my eyes at certain points during the film.
Forcing all the Japanese to speak in English also seems to be a huge problem for me as I find myself hard to immerse into the movie as all the dialog felt out-of-place. I think that the casts did the best they could for the movie, but nevertheless, the language of choice for the movie certainly plays an important factor in ruining it for me. I would’ve much preferred it in Japanese. All in all, I believe that if the movie has set itself on a certain direction by either being a movie whose main theme focuses on the way of the samurai itself without the addition of pointless CGI or just be an action blockbuster that showcases the badass-ness of the samurai, it might have gotten a higher score from us.