47 Ronin, A Review, campy, goofy, enjoyable and fun

Promotional poster for 47 Ronin, originally released in December 2013 overseas

Promotional poster for 47 Ronin, originally released in December 2013 overseas

In one busy night while doing my Rarejob duties, my student and I found ourselves talking about movies and up coming films, at that time I was about to watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (an excellent film by the way), while I was excited about Peter Jackson’s opus, the student recommended me to watch 47 Ronin. I looked it up in Wikipedia and IMDB and found that it was a Hollywood film starring Keanu Reeves. The moment I saw the poster I was already intrigued on how Hollywood would give justice to both the Japanese legend/myth/history or even to the original movie and a remake back in 1994. So, I said great I will definitely watch this film, so I have to wait till January to troop to the movie theater and see this flick. It was kind of a long wait because I have to deal with the fact that the Metro Manila Film Fest movies (which usually contains 2 or 3 quality ones and the rest are absolute crap) have to get their screening come Christmas and New Year holidays. Finally when it came out today, my dad was convinced to watch the film today and finally I would see this film after over a month of waiting.

Before I continue I would like to warn my reader(s) that this might contain spoilers. To this amateurish review, let me fill you in with something from Wikipedia, here’s a brief overview of the story of the Forty Seven Ronin in Japan. (DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED or skip the quoted part)

The revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin (四十七士 Shi-jū-shichi-shi?, forty-seven samurai) took place in Japan at the start of the 18th century. One noted Japanese scholar described the tale, the most famous example of the samurai code of honor, bushidō, as the country’s “national legend.”[1]
The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless (becoming ronin) after their daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori was compelled to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was Kōzuke no suke. The ronin avenged their master’s honor by killing Kira, after waiting and planning for almost two years. In turn, the ronin were themselves obliged to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. With much embellishment, this true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives. The popularity of the tale grew during the Meiji era of Japanese history, in which Japan underwent rapid modernization, and the legend became subsumed within discourses of national heritage and identity.
Fictionalized accounts of the tale of the Forty-seven Ronin are known as Chūshingura. The story was popularized in numerous plays, including bunraku and kabuki. Because of the censorship laws of the shogunate in the Genroku era, which forbade portrayal of current events, the names were changed. While the version given by the playwrights may have come to be accepted as historical fact by some, the first Chūshingura was written some 50 years after the event, and numerous historical records about the actual events that predate the Chūshingura survive.
The bakufu’s censorship laws had relaxed somewhat 75 years later in the late 18th century, when Japanologist Isaac Titsingh first recorded the story of the Forty-seven Ronin as one of the significant events of the Genroku era.[2] The story continues to be popular in Japan to this day. Each year on December 14, Sengakuji Temple holds a festival commemorating the event.

Now that we had a brief history or summary of the story out of the way, let’s go and take a look and how it was portrayed. Keanu Reeves plays the role of Kai, a mysterious “half breed” and the main protagonist of the story, Hiroyuki Sanada (the guy from Ring movies, ok he was Ryuji in those Ring films) plays Oishi (honestly I crack up everytime I hear his name, Ko Shibisaki as Mika (the film’s damsel and Kai’s love interest), Tadanobu Asano (he was Hogun in Thor) who plays the main antagonist Lord Kira, Rinko Kikuchi (from the Pacific Rim film) as the witch and Kira’s right hand woman. Jin Akanishi (voice of Speed Racer in Japanese dub and and singer) plays the role of Chikara Oishi’s son, and veteran Japanese actor Min Tanaka (from Black Dawn) as Lord Asano. Well at least those were the memorable characters, then there was the fat Japanese Ronin, a bad ass warrior and the old warrior.

Though panned by critics, I happened to find myself enjoying the film, the visuals are good, though the witch thing might have pushed the envelope a little further. The designs were great and the actions are not bad either. The story started with a young Kai being found in the forest by Oishi’s men might leave you thinking that this film might be “whitewashed”. In the end as the story progressed, Oishi’s leadership and strength made him a stronger character than Kai (despite his mythological background). Mika was kinda dull and a typical damsel but has somewhat pulled off something interesting as well, the witch can at times be goofy and her transformation(s) in the film can at times leave your head scratching. One of the cringe worthy moment in the film was how the Witch taunted Mika after the Witch ambushed our heroes(and the fact that the Witch constantly torments Mika should have been built up by adding one or two more scenes). My favorite scene has to be the scene where Kai and the Demon talked in the cave about helping men, the very men who hates them and despises, while in a separate portion of the cave Oishi had hallucinations that his men and his son are dying fighting the demon monks of the cave, there were whispers of “draw your sword Oishi, save your men”, but his spirit and will was never broken (note that after they entered the cave Kai told Oishi to never draw his sword). I would love to give a brief history of Kai in the film but I’d rather leave it to your viewing. The ending in my opinion is a fitting send off to those brave 47 Ronin and honorable men (my 2nd favorite part of the film). As far as who killed who, who killed the right hand woman and the main villain, I just find it fitting that they did that. The one big thing that is wrong with this film is that it’s not in Japanese, the Lord in heaven knows I wanted this to be in Japanese, I would have looked pass the odd, cringe moments and say what moments with Japanese subtitles. I want it to have a feel of the old 18th century Japan.

As you can see I left a lot of things in this review, because I’d rather have you guys watch it in the movies, I recommend it, just have a little suspension of disbelief, and have fun. I give this film a rating of 3.25/5. Just don’t go to the theater and expect you’re going to watch The Godfather II.

Next up, what I should have done last December: Basketball 2013, a year in perspective.