47 Ronin: A Contrarian Takes Bun and Bu to Critics

47 Ronin: 2014 action film starring Keanu Reeves

First…a Superfluous Story:

I hate being late for a movie. I know you usually have that buffer of 12 or more minutes of trailers (except for indie and documentaries) but I still hate being late. I naively thought that since I had to work that day and I took off early for the movie that everyone else was working the day after Christmas. I had thoughts of an empty theater where I could sit where I want, put my legs anywhere and have easy access to the restroom. When I got to the line, I thought: I’m going to miss the beginning—crap!

As I am mentally pushing the people ahead of me to pull out their money and be ready to purchase their tickets, I also silently curse those who fuddle with their pockets, dropping their change and not realizing the film they want to see is much later and they are holding up the line. Still I think a mad rush through the doors, trip to the restroom and I will not miss much.

Crap! The restroom is out-of-order (there are others, but none near where I was going. Oh well, I will wait until later. As I get into the theater I have the joy of noticing the THX intro and realize I am just in time. Ahh, something good happened.

Crap! The theater is almost full, I was not expecting that. As my pupils widen to accommodate more light I scan a place to sit down. I had a friend with me so I had to find two seats (or split up which works well if there are not combined seats.) Crap!

There are two adjacent seats available in the middle. I am a little tall so squeezing my way past several people is never fun, plus the fact that one lady will not move her feet so I almost end up falling in the next row. Why is there a coat in my chair? Luckily the owner of that takes it with her and I am able to squeeze in. I think it will be prudent to stop drinking my chai/chocolate/coffee/random ingredients drink (known as Franken-chai at my favorite coffee establishment which is close to the theater) as I realize I am not going to be able to get out until the movie is over.

Crap!

47-ronin-Nabeshima_Naoshige

“The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness.” – Lord Naoshige

47 Ronin (2013: Carl Rinsch) ***/****

I did not need to see another completely sacrosanct adaptation of Chūshingura. There are already lots of jidai geki versions of this story though this would be the first American remake (that I know of). It is analogous to the adaptations of Shakespeare. For example, the Richard Loncraine version of Richard III uses a completely different time period, but is reverent in the use of language and tone of the original play. For me the reverence is most important, especially if you are going to add/take away elements to the plot. For aesthetics I would have preferred this to be in Japanese than in English and most of the actors would fare better in their native language, except perhaps Keanu Reeves, though I would have loved to hear his Japanese. The addition of Reeves as a half-breed and his romantic subplot and the supernatural elements were welcome by me who just recently enjoyed Keanu’s first directorial film Man of Tai Chi.

Reeves plays Kai, a Japanese-Dutch (?) half-breed who was given up for dead as an infant and was taken in by a mystical group who have separated themselves from the Earthly world. He escaped as a teenager and was saved by Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) whom he pledged his loyalty to, though he is treated as an ainoko (this derogatory term was used post-WWII; I do not know what the term was used before) by many except those who recognize his character including his childhood friend and unfulfilled love Mika (Kô Shibasaki) who is the daughter of Asano.

47 Ronin the fantasy action film starring Keanu Reeves

Lord Kira wants Asano’s land and has procured the services of a witch to help. The Witch (Rinko Kikuchi) was bewitching and with her brewing hatred was one of my favorite female antagonists since Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada) of Ran. Though I thought they should have developed more of her backstory and how it coincides with Kai. This leads to the salient aspect of all versions of this film, Asano being forced to commit seppuku because of Kira though it is different here than in the play/movies versions and then the formation of the ronin (masterless samurai: though the film probably did not need to explain the concept several times).

My biggest worry was that the ending was going to be some bizarre scene of forgiveness and everybody gets what they want. While I have read many complaints about the Hollywoodization of this there are in-fact several anti-Hollywood facets to this film from the mostly Japanese cast to the ending which I wondered if any producer was trying to change while this was being made. Imagine trying to sell those aspects while trying to gets funds for the film. Seeing this in a crowded house I was worried that their might be some jeering.

This is Carl Rinsch’s first full-length directorial feature and much has been made that he lost control of the film after it went over budget (there have been conflicting reports on the amount of this.) I thought the fight scenes were done decently. There is a little too much cutting here and there during them, but nothing on the scope of Paul Greengrass. But where I thought it shined was the mixture of fantasy and chambara elements that made this an interesting hybrid. I thought the human elements were thought out well, especially the relationship between Kai and Mira as well as Kai with Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada: The Twilight Samurai, also recently seen him in The Wolverine).

It was an enjoyable film that I plan on getting when it comes out on BD/DVD. I will probably even call this underrated in a year’s time. I saw this in 2-D, which I normally do, and the cinematography from John Mathieson (Gladiator) looked fine, the color palette was done quite well and the sometimes gothic fantasy atmosphere came across creepily well. I would definitely be interested in anyone’s opinion of the 3-D aspects of the movie.

47 Ronin: fantasy action film starring Keanu Reeves

Sources

47 Ronin Historical Origins: It is difficult-to-impossible to keep a complete historical fidelity whether to play or movie when facts are always in question. Most of the complaints about this film being historically accurate are actually complaints about the film not being accurate with the play.
Rotten Tomatoes: This film is pretty much panned all around and will be a box office failure (there are so many failures I have liked.) But I have to go with my gut and my feelings with watching the film. I liked it, just like I liked Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (another historically inaccurate film) both cross-genre films that are completely serious about their material. Several of these critics expect their cross-genre films to be campy and cannot understand it when it is not. This is one of the biggest mistakes with reviewers who write about what they want in the film instead of what the film actually is.
Is Carl Rinsch Still Working on 47 Ronin?
47 Ronin Interview – Carl Rinsch (2013)

Shawn McKenna (aka masterofoneinchpunch) is obsessed with all things associated with movies and is an administrator of The Criterion Forums. When not making money as a software engineer, talking about movies at the gym or worried that his DVD/BD pile will one day collapse and suffocate him, he is actually watching movies.

 

  • moivieirv

    been on the fence about this one. you convinced me. I’m there,

  • Wayne P.

    I should think anyone reading this fine piece by someone who (not only administrates but also) writes for the Criterion Collection Forum, whose famed boxed film sets are to live for by any serious movie collector and/or amateur back-story type cinema historian, has to love this review. A job well done, Moiip, and it may be hard for a few of us who have been posting comments to this great blog for awhile (myself only going on 3 years now) to realize that this, perhaps, is our first exposure to your writing an article for MU fanfare…please keep them coming anytime you can, thanks!

    • Masterofoneinchpunch

      Well technically the site is an unofficial one and one of the smaller unofficial ones (.org is the biggie). I’m a collector of Criterion releases and have been part of several forums on the subject (as well as dealing with Asian cinema.)

      I actually did one review here on Drunken Master a few years back. It is still on here so it is searchable (I cannot post links.) I get a good review/essay out every few months. Most of the time it is not applicable to this site, but I am going to try to get some more appropriate articles out this year here (I should probably do an Akira Kurosawa review.)

      But thanks for the comments Wayne. It is always appreciated.

      • Wayne P.

        Yes, excellent…cant wait for a Kurosawa review…the Japanese film equivalent, if not better, of great director John Ford! ;)

        • GeorgeDAllen

          I will second Wayne’s vote for a MOIIP Kurosawa overview! I just inherited a copy of Donald Richie’s “The Films of Akira Kurosawa” from a friend–I have Richie’s fine Ozu book but I’ve never owned the Kurosawa–and am looking forward to checking that out.

          Here’s the Drunken Master review referenced earlier:
          http://www.moviefanfare.com/jacki-chan-in-drunken-master/

          • Masterofoneinchpunch

            George, that is a great book. I have two copies: one for my desk and one for home. If you do not have it, I strongly recommend Kurosawa’s autobiography “Something Like an Autobiography.” For advanced film studies I recommend Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto’s “Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema.” (I do not recommend this as a starter on Kurosawa or Japanese studies, but it is a fine contrarian book.) I would also recommend Richie’s “A Hundred Years of Japanese Film.”

            Since all of Kurosawa is available on DVD (not counting the codirected war time film “Those Who Make Tomorrow” which is not available anywhere I believe), it makes it easier to study him as an auteur. I’m going to search the archives here for Kurosawa articles which will help
            me determine what to write.

            Kurosawa on John Ford [autobiography]: “They were remarkably quiet as they observed the shooting and departed, and later I found out that the movie director John Ford had been among them. It was he himself who told me this years later when I met him in London, and I was amazed. Apparently he had asked my name at the time and left a message of greeting for me. “Didn’t you receive it?” he asked. But I had of course not received it, nor did i have any idea that John Ford had ever visited a movie set of mine until that day I met him in England.”

          • Wayne P.

            :) My minds eye right now is just imaging what it mightve been like if John Wayne and/or Toshiro Mifune had agreed, with each of the master directors approval of course, to swap parts in any of their respective wonderfully made Ford and/or Kurosawa westerns! Naturally, the only forum I could think of where it mightve worked would be a western-styled vehicle maybe along the lines of one of James Clavells sagas of Dirk Struan, such as “Gai Jin.”

          • Masterofoneinchpunch

            Weird, getting a 404 (not found) for that link.

  • ganderson

    ‘Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter’ is historically inaccurate?!? Dang, now you tell me.

    • Masterofoneinchpunch

      I was as shocked and surprised as you. It was based on a book and everything. Though it was less fictional than the 1957 film Man of a Thousand Faces.

  • Movie Fan

    I watched Siskel and Ebert, then the variations of the show, for many years. I didn’t always agree with the opinions expressed every week but I really enjoyed hearing people discussing the histories, influences, etc. behind the films. That’s what I like about Movies Unlimited’s site. I know nothing about movies. The articles and blogs are informative and interesting. Keep up the good work!