47 Ronin Reviews
Good Film! In a nut shell. 47 Ronin has a fair amount of mystical magic and demons peppered throughout a historical tail. A tale of Samurai who's master is killed and their status is reduced to Ronin. Only for them to rise up and seek revenge against the evil ruler and his witch who are responsible. Visually the 47 Ronin is beautiful. The costumes design and color choices to separate each of the different clans is impressive in it's complexity. The sets have an epic feel that is grounded and doesn't feel to fantastic, but rather believable. All things considered, the title of the film is a bit of a misnomer - it would more accurately be called 2 Ronin, subtitled Oishi And Kai's Excellent Adventure - and it suffers from a lamentable lack of humour and historical accuracy. But it's not a complete travesty. Tucked away beneath a layer of mystical beasts and witches lies a story with enough heart, nobility and soul to survive even the oddest twists and turns.
While hunting in the forest, Lord Asano of Ako and his samurai find a young half-breed and take him with them to live in the castle. Several years later, Lord Asano holds a tournament to welcome the Shogun to Ako. The night after the tournament, Lord Asano is bewitched into hurting Lord Kira of Nagato, and is punished into committing seppuku by the Shogun. Realizing that it was a Lord Kira's evil plot, the samurais and the half-breed sets out for revenge against the Shogun's order.
Ah the legendary tale of the 47 Ronin, this film is very very very loosely based around this Japanese story of honour. The real origins are much simpler in truth, in the early 17th Century a Daimyo (Territorial Lord) called Asano attacked a high ranking Edo official called Kira. The reason was simply down to the fact that Kira had been rude to Asano and Kira was possibly corrupt which also offended Asano. So basically there was a scuffle which one could say was childish, but because of this Asano was ordered to commit seppuku. You can't go around attacking important Shogun officials willy-nilly.
So now we have the classic tale of the 47 Ronin...the Hollywood version, hurrah!. The film follows the basic premise of the old story but uses artistic license heavily and thick highly stylised visuals. Yep, this is '300' for feudal Japan (Edo period). The visuals are clearly influenced by that Greek Spartan battle porn flick, I thought the film was a more historically accurate take...got that wrong!. Admittedly most of the creatures we see are the result of sorcery by this naughty female witch but there is a huge armour clad uber Samurai, a big ogre/troll guy, some weird spiritual bird-faced monks and some massive half dragon half horse with antlers type thing at the start.
I can't lie to you, I flippin' loved the visual style of the film. Maybe we could of done without the monsters and freaks as they didn't really add anything to the plot other than fancy flair. Would of been fine without the magical hocus pocus too but unfortunately that is all tied in with the new plot. All the fantasy aside the actual realistic Japanese period costumes, weapons and sets are all expertly created and beautiful to look at. The ceremonial sequences at the start are truly stunning, bold and colourful, while the sets look pretty accurate to me. Its all topped off with some well created CGI landscapes and skylines.
Plot queries...apparently Reeves character was raised in some spooky woods by the bird-faced monks, who are apparently demons. Not overly sure why they would do that, they also trained him to be a bloody good katana fighter, although again not too sure why they would do that, how does it benefit them? oh and why do they look the way they do?. Other things stood out to me also, for example, when 'Oishi' is getting his samurai back together for his revenge mission he finds Reeves character first. But why? he clearly doesn't like the guy as we saw for the whole film right up to that point, also Reeves character isn't a samurai so why would he even think of him, this whole issue has nothing to do with Reeves character. Its about the 47 Ronin, not 47 Ronin and one outcast along for the ride.
Another thing I don't get was the abundant advertising of Rick Genest's face all over the posters (guy covered in tattoos). I kinda got the impression this bloke was a main character in the film yet he does nothing and shows up for less than a minute. I'm guessing whatever he did was cut out.
I'm not gonna beat around the bush here, I really liked this film. It has its problems but as far as I'm concerned they are easily overlooked by the tremendously sumptuous visuals, solid acting from the Japanese cast and the kick ass battle sequences. Yep if you wanna see some samurai action that other films like 'The Last Samurai' didn't quite deliver on then this is for you. There isn't any blood and gore on display but the sword battles are awesome and most of the time not spoilt by CGI silliness. For the most part everything seems to have been kept as relatively historically accurate as possible, its just bits here and there...which does beg the question why but anyway.
In all honesty there are many little niggly bits that could be pointed out, I get the feeling they really struggled to incorporate the fantasy element they wanted into this historic event. But lets not allow that to dampen our oriental spirits here. Yes the film blatantly pinches ideas from various films like '300' 'The Matrix' and even 'The Empire Strikes Back' with the sequence where the good guys must enter a sacred spooky wood to face an unknown force...of sorts. It does feel like they're totally jumpin' on the 300 franchise bandwagon mainly and as I've said it does feel a bit unnecessary.
Never the less I did enjoy the film thoroughly. My love of Japanese culture will make me somewhat biased of course but anyone who likes this new blend of history and slick glossy stylised action should enjoy this.
-that-be in this nice tip of the hat to Japanese history. Yeah, you've seen it before (uhhh, like in the Robin Hood story, f'instance, only its in Japan), vengeance for wrongdoing, but this time its just as good as last time, maybe better. I always like this stuff anyways.
47 Ronin tells the story of a band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun. The first and immediate problem with the film is the departure from the source material which is based on true events. It was emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives especially during a time where the Samurai class was struggling to maintain a sense of itself - warriors with no war, a social class without a function. Important details like that turned an epic story of revenge into an influential story of the importance of self worth and honor. This adaptation is a literal trainwreck in every sense of the word. Taking an established story and giving a Western touch that severely damages it identity. Understanding of the Samurai code is nonexistent as it leaves audiences in the dust. Unless you have minimal understanding of Samurai culture and their code of honor none of what the Samurai expresses come across with any meaning. Down to the basic details such as explaining the significance behind the title of a Ronin (a masterless Samurai/someone who is without a home) aren't touched upon. Without getting across the bare essentials it's doom upon arrival. Since the writers don't know how to implement Eastern culture into the film both sides are left unsatisfied. Those unfamiliar with the story will misinterpret its intention and those familiar with the story will be infuriated by not only the liberties that were taken, but how ignorant it is to what made the "47 Ronin" legendary.
If it were be taken as pure fiction it has all sign of life stripped away. Fantasy elements that were meant to be exuberant are lifeless. Dry dialogue tells us of an Japan that is home to dangerous monsters, witches, and fearless warriors. Main problem being hardly implementing fantasy elements in a story that clearly didn't need any of it. Every time an element of fantasy is introduced they are blatant metaphors that hammered their point across. An important scene in the Tengu (a legendary creature depicted with both human and avian characteristics) Temple where the ronin go to gain swords serves as the creation of the film's black hole. Our non-Japanese protagonist immediately tells the leader how to pass the test given to him defeating the whole purpose of testing his leader loyalty to his men. Not only that, but it's also introduces the non-Japanese protagonist to a supernatural abilities which he uses only once later on in the film. Everything portrayed is meant to hammer a single point further establishing the one dimensionality of every single thing in its writing.
Obviously a two hour film can't developed 47 individual characters into three dimensional characters, but without a single worthwhile character ensures emptiness. Kai, the protagonist (a work of fiction) is simply a tool in the film. He's not a white man who leads Japanese to reclaim their honor. No, Kai is a man who's constantly told to annoying extremes that he's not a Samurai and a half bread. Beating the protagonist down with secondary characters has two effects; the first being it makes Kai unlikable because he's given little reason to stick with his fellow ronin who constantly show no respect and the second being it makes our heroes as equally dislikable as the villain. Speaking of which we're only told through the ronin words he's a terrible man and yet never once do we see any reason to hate him. Given how poorly it establishes how deeply Japan values honor the heroes motivation is just as easily missable. Romance is severely half baked. Since most of the film is spend on the ronin preparation to avenge their master what little time it spends to establish a romance early on in the film is fades away and reappears later carrying no weight to the overall story. Detracting from Kai journey to save her seeing his love interest is simply a flat plot device.
Keanu Reeves performance is wooden. His character is written in a way that he shows little emotion as possible in which Reeves delivers on his front. Always looking broody and down on his feet when interacting with the rest of the cast. Reeves here comes into focus in action mode making him appear cool as his dialogue is among the simplest of the cast. The Japanese actors have trouble saying their lines in English. It's made very evident (five minutes in no less) that the Japanese actors aren't comfortable speaking in English. Their line delivery is awkward and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Only sounding natural when speaking in their native language. Action scenes are a dull affair utilizing the best in random swinging. Sword techniques are fluid requiring careful reading of your opponent movement and speed; something not made evident in the film sword fights. Our ronin simply strike without planning resulting in a stalemate of pointlessly clashing swords. More characters are killed by projectile than a slash of a blade lessening the effect of the main weapon in most of the action scenes. All of this with editing that has a tendency to exist scenes abruptly. I appreciate the editor wanting to make the film end more quickly, but doing so did more harm than good to the way the film plays out. Just about the only compliment that could be given to "47 Ronin" is it cinematography. It's varied in location and has some good looking scenes (especially ones involving fire). Nice visuals can't make for bad acting, unimaginative action, horrid editing, and a plot that has sign of life to be found.
47 Ronin is a misinterpretation of an Eastern story told by Westerners that don't understand it. Combining Japanese folktale, American empty set pieces, Japan Samurai culture, and American lazy writing creates a fusion of a culturally unsatisfying film. It's more than a bad adaptation, it's more than a awful movie, and more than a generic blockbuster, but it's a complete butchering representing the worst in Eastern and Western filmmaking.
Keaneu Reeves takes up a role like none he's ever played before before, A mystical saviour! (tw: sarcasm). But despite being so well versed in such characters, 47 Ronin completely fails to deliver a likeable, memorable or even wanted character.
Despite slating Rick Genest as a main player, his character (unnamed) is on screen for all of 10 seconds. Further proof that 47 Ronin quite simply is another case of "If you've seen the trailer, you've seen the lot". Even the fighting swiftly becomes stale and unoriginal, and the plot is more holes and thin-stretched exposition than any semblance of believable story.
There are some moderately interesting (though poorly presented) creature designs, and the giant metal Samurai does scrape by as "imposing", but in the end no allusions to a fantasy world are able to bring life to this lacklustre piece, which may be bearable, but certainly isn't justifiable.
This is something of an epic that is not quite as long as I was expecting, and yet, while I was thinking, maybe even hoping that this drama would run longer, there are times in which the film outstays its welcome, bloating itself with too much exposition and not enough action, resulting in some repetition. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a well-rounded mini-epic of a drama, but there's only so much momentum to this draggy effort, which would feel less bland if the path it follows wasn't so familiar. Whether they be seen in other blockbusters of this nature or in other Japanese warrior dramas of this nature, tropes are found throughout the final product, whose familiarity reflects a laziness that is further reflected in other areas of writing. Hossein Amini's and recurring "Fast & Furious" series writer Chris Morgan's (Yes, he worked on "Tokyo Drift") writing is not as sloppy as they say, but it's still mighty flawed, with dialogue lowlights that are just about embarrassing, especially behind major plotting histrionics that, even in the intentionally melodramatic context of this effort, distance, possibly because they're so thinly written. Laziness may very well be most reflected in the film's simply lacking dimension, for although storytelling bloats itself with plenty of aimless expository segments, you're ultimately told only so much about the narrative and character layers, and this dilutes a sense of sweep, while exacerbating the sting of other structural issues. If the thinness of the storytelling calls your attention to no other depths, it is the depths of this drama's questionable structuring, because as well-done as this film actually is in more places than the critics are giving it credit for, it's so overlong, formulaic and cheesy, thus making for a final product that falls way short of what it could have been. Really, the film is just kind of forgettable, but, while it had my attention, I can't say that I wasn't entertained, because as messy as this effort is, when it is realized, it engages pretty firmly, at least on an aesthetic level.
Ilan Eshkeri's score is conventional, but grand, with a clean blend of Japanese flavor and modern blockbuster sweep that makes for a dynamic soundtrack which sustains a degree of entertainment value, while capturing the tonal layers of this mini-epic, just as the effects further enhance post-production style with nifty and reasonably cleanly rendered designs that help sell the more fantastic elements of this super-fictionalized account of a true legend. Of course, really, it's the production value to David Allday's, John Chichester's, Robert Cowper's, Gary Freeman's, Fay Greene's, Stuart Rose's and Leslie Tomkins' art direction that most impresses, presenting lavish and grandiose production and costume designs that not only sell the distinguished setting of 18th century Japan, but prove to be hauntingly beautiful in their rich coloration and detail, which bring plenty of eye candy to this blockbuster, at least until the action kicks in. When this, the rare winter action blockbuster, really picks up, technical proficiency and impressive choreography join during killers brawls and duels whose dynamic staging and stylistic polish both augment entertainment value and reinforce a sense of consequence, with the help of Carl Rinsch's direction, of course. Overblown, but decidedly more inspired than Hossein Amini's and Chris Morgan's writing, Rinsch's storytelling is itself a little overblown, yet generally controlled enough in style to sustain entertainment value through all of the repetition, with steadier moments that are genuinely rather dramatically compelling. Quite frankly, in regards to the story, while there are histrionic moments that are too romantic for you to buy into, even when you take into account that this mythology follows its own rules in a lot of places, this is still a pretty conceptually interesting fantasized take on a timeless tale from ancient Japanese legends which is kept entertaining by the outstanding style, intriguing by reasonably inspired storytelling, and carried by certain performances. Flawed writing and direction limit the material and abilities of the performers, some of whom are better than others, with Kou Shibaski being particularly rather flat, and most everyone else doing a fair job, including Keanu Reeves, whose quiet presence comes in handy in projecting a sense of warrior honor to his Kai character. There are aspects in this film worth complimenting, as well as aspects that are just plain worth praising, and while there's just not enough of those attributes for this film to stand out, at least in your long-term memory, there's enough style and substance to make for a fun winter fluff flick, though not much more than that.
Once the numbers have thinned, repetitious and formulaic storytelling, with rather cheesily histrionic and thinly drawn "depths", render the final product underwhelming, but through fine scoring, effects and action, outstanding art direction, and highlights in direction and acting, Carl Rinsch's "47 Ronin" emerges as a pretty entertaining and sometimes compelling, if ultimately forgettable final action blockbuster for 2013.
2.5/5 - Fair