Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: "47 Ronin" Lacks Magic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 29 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

47 Ronin (2013)
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements
DIRECTOR:  Carl Rinsch  
WRITERS:  Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini; from a screen story by Chris Morgan and Walter Hamada
PRODUCERS:  Pamela Abdy, Eric McLeod, and Scott Stuber
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  John Mathieson  
EDITOR:  Stuart Baird
COMPOSER:  Ilan Eshkeri


Starring:  Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Hiroshi Sogabe, Takato Yonemoto, Shu Nakajima, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

47 Ronin is a 2013 samurai action movie and historical fantasy.  The film is a fantasy-based, fictional account of the legendary “forty-seven Ronin” and an incident in which they were involved that took place in the early 1700s in Japan.

47 Ronin tells the story through Kai (Keanu Reeves), a half-Japanese, half-English outcast.  He lives in the domain of Ako, which is ruled by the benevolent daimyo (lord), Takumi no Kami Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka).  Lord Asano found Kai, when he was a child, lost in the forest.  Despite being scorned by most people in Ako, including Asano’s samurai, Kai finds deep kinship with Asano’s daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki), who loves the half-breed.

Asano is tasked with hosting the Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).  Lord Kira Yoshinaka (Tadanobu Asano) is also invited, but Kira wants Ako to be merged with his domain, Nagato.  Joined by a conniving Witch (Rinko Kikuchi), Kira masterminds a series of events that ruins Asano.  The Shogun orders Asano to die with honor though seppuku (ritual suicide).

Lord Asano’s samurai are cast out and become Ronin (samurai without a master).  Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the leader of Asano’s men, finds Kai, whom he once despised, and together they plot revenge against Lord Kira.  The duo gathers Asano’s former samurai, and soon there are 47 Ronin on a mission to kill Kira.  But the ruthless daimyo is more crafty and cunning than these Ronin imagine.

47 Ronin was not exactly a box office bomb, but it reportedly was a money-loser for Universal Pictures.  I think Universal Pictures spent around $175 million on a movie that does not know what it wants to be.  47 Ronin looks like an American version of an epic samurai period drama (a “jidaigeki”).  At the same time, the film is filled with fantasy and supernatural elements such as yokai (creatures of Japanese folklore) and magic.

I think that at one point, Universal wanted to make 47 Ronin a kind of epic fantasy franchise like the Lord of the Rings films.  What the movie studio ended up with was a samurai movie with supernatural elements awkwardly tacked onto it.

47 Ronin is not a bad movie, nor is it a particularly good movie.  There are characters, scenes, and sections of the plot that I really enjoyed and even found riveting.  One actor I really liked was Hiroyuki Sanada who played Oishi, Lord Asano’s chief counselor.  This is really Oishi’s movie; Sanada gives a nice performance filled with delicacy and grace.  Keanu Reeves is Keanu Reeves – intense presence, but wooden delivery of dialogue.  So I can recommend 47 Ronin to people who like samurai films, knowing that viewers may have a mixed reaction towards it.

5 of 10

Thursday, June 05, 2014

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