47 Ronin – Another Version of an Old Tale

Song of the Day: ‘Tessellate’ by alt-J

My friend D. and I usually play a silly game at the cinema. After every movie preview depending on who liked it, we claim ‘ownership’ of the consequent viewing. A rather meaningless endeavour, one could say, as the chances are more than likely that we would watch them together. Anyhow, whilst watching The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, the trailer for 47 Ronin came on. It didn’t immediately catch my eye (trailer didn’t do much to advertise it), but D. immediately exclaimed, ‘We are watching that! For the girl!’ Unfortunately, I did not get to see it with D. but another friend on a Sunday evening that we were both bored. 

‘The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness.’ – Lord Naoshige.*


Spectacular entertainment should be expected of 47 Ronin, an American film loosely based on the true story of 47 real-life master-less Samurai who avenged their disgraced master’s death. One would just have to see the 300-style fantasy elements to be clued that this was not going to be a ‘true to history’ re-telling of their story. As its trailer promised, the film features a troll-looking man with a mace, a giant in a samurai suit of armour, Keanu Reeves with a sword, a tattooed man with two guns, a beautiful lady (D.’s object of desire) who floats around in a sentient kimono, and a very angry fire-breathing dragon who kind of looks like The Never Ending Story’s Falkor. But in spite of its enjoyable, easy-to-exploit aspects, 47 Ronin is a big-budget spectacle hamstrung by its need to be at once flippant and respectful of its honour-bound driven source material.

It is well known that we do not have the entire truth about what happened regarding the 47 Ronin. What we know is that it did happen and there are graves in Japan to visit for those inclined. The first ever written version was done 50 years after the event – mainly because the Shogun had outlawed any recorded history at the time. Since then it has been embellished with each re-telling. So, just like the story about King Arthur, fantastical elements have been added.

In this version of the story, 46 Samurai and an almost there half-breed seek revenge after their Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) is disgraced by a young Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). The insult in question is not insufficient tribute, as in other version of the story. This time, Akira sets up Asano using a shape-shifting witch to ‘attack’ him whilst he is an honoured guest in his home. This leads to the salient aspect of all versions of this story: Asano being forced to commit Seppuku because of Kira (though it is different here) which leads to the formation of the Ronin (masterless Samurai — though the film probably did not need to explain the concept several times).

Sure, the movie may not be ‘historically accurate’ (however one may define that considering the material available) but I felt it worked. I did not need to see another sacrosanct adaptation of Chūshingura. There are already lots of jidai geki versions of this story, though this would be the first American re-make (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. I think, the reverence is most important. For aesthetics, I would have preferred the movie to be in Japanese than in English. As it is most of the actors would fare better in their natural language, except perhaps Keanu Reeves. (Actually, I would have loved to hear his Japanese.)

This is Carl Rinsch’s first full-length directorial feature and much has been made that he lost control of the feature 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 (Keanu Reeves) and Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada: The Twilight Samurai, also recently seen him in The Wolverine.)

It was an enjoyable film. 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 colour 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.

If I can enjoy a movie about King Arthur who has a wizard living backwards, fights using a magic sword which makes him nigh invulnerable and blinds his foes, was conceived via magic imbued into his father, confers with his knights around a magic table that expands to accommodate all the knights loyal to him, sends his knights out to find the Holy Grail which has magical healing powers; and so on: I can accept an evil sorceress and the fantasy elements in this movie. It was a complete story – well told. I wonder if majority of the reviewers dislike this movie because it didn’t have the requisite happy ending.

Anyhow, good movie — watch it if you get the chance. You will be thoroughly entertained. It is one of those movies to turn one’s brain off and enjoy the unfolding action onscreen.

Till Next Post!




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