While I was intrigued by the trailer for 47 Ronin, I felt like it had the very real potential to end up being a giant fantasy action turd like Immortals or something like that. I was going to hold off on seeing it until it hit bluray, but after seeing a lot of really positive fan reviews I decided it would be a fun time…and I was correct in assuming this.
Keanu Reeves stars as Kai, a half-Japanese, half-British outcast who was abandoned as a baby and reluctantly raised until he was a teenager by a mysterious group of warriors deep in the Tengu forest. One day after abandoning this secret cult he is discovered by a Japanese lord, Asano, his family and his legion of samurai. They take him in, continue to raise him and allow him to live in their land, Ako. While they take care of him and clearly care for him, being that he is a “half-breed”, he is never seen as an equal. Though trained like one and living among them, he can never be a true samurai. The only person that treats him as a true equal is the lord’s daughter, Mika (played by Ko Shibasaki); though it’s clear that she loves him as more than just an adopted brother.
After years of peaceful living, the Shogun, the man who rules all of Japan comes to Ako with another lord, Kira, to meet with Asano. During this time a witch puts into motion a plan that will rip apart the Japanese territories and bring dishonor to Asano and his samurai. Mika is forced to marry Kira, Kai is sold into slavery at a Dutch colony and Asano’s samurai are dishonored and banished from Ako forever and are called ronin, samurai who have no master or honor. This starts a quest for revenge, led by Asano’s head samurai Ôishi, against those who have wronged them and to regain their honor. Ôishi is played by the great Hiroyuki Sanada. He was seen last year as the villainous Shingen in The Wolverine. It was great seeing him as a famed hero, rather than being typecast as a baddie. He’s great in this role and brings out a stoic, yet intense performance that still allows for his true feelings to come through.
The thing about this movie is that despite the trailers making it out to be a mile-a-minute ridiculous action-fantasy movie; it’s actually a realistic look at Japan in 1701 with magical and supernatural elements sprinkled throughout. It’s this detail that makes the movie so much better than expected. Rather than throwing CGI creatures and ridiculous fight scenes at us in every frame, we’re given plenty of room to breathe and take in some truly gorgeous cinematography. (Don’t worry there are plenty of creatures and ridiculous fight scenes.) There are scenes of Japan’s countryside and mountainous regions that are simply breathtaking and reminded me of Peter Jackson’s use of the New Zealand wilderness used for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
One of the best sequences in the film shows Ôishi searching for Kai in the Dutch island colony. While stuffed with digital pirate ships and scenery, there a lot of excellent set pieces and practical effects used. The blending of the two works so well in bringing together the grounded and fantastical realities. Kai fights a giant in death match that’s a blend of Pirates of the Caribbean and Escape From New York. Trust me, that makes sense when you see it. It’s a kick-ass swash-buckling scene and brings another dimension to a great story. The film as a whole is, without a doubt, a feast for the eyes.
Directed by newbie Carl Rinsch, who has previously only directed shorts, but he definitely has an eye for it. (He was originally hand-picked by Ridley Scott to direct the Alien prequel before it was changed into Prometheus.) I’m definitely excited to see what he signs on to do next. Now look, this isn’t gonna win any Oscars, for the most part the acting isn’t all that great, aside from a few decent performances here and there. Keanu is, well, Keanu. And it’s not like it’s something you’ve never seen before, but it is a hell of a fun movie and does the real story of the forty seven ronin justice while adding some of that supernatural flare to make a great movie. It hasn’t been a hit with the critics, but it’s pleasing fans, like this one, and that’s what matters For a fun time at the movies or a good rental for a movie night at home; I recommend 47 Ronin.