Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki
Director: Carl Rinsch
Screenplay: Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2013
Scott, I’d like to welcome our guest for today, Jay Markiewicz from Inner Competitor. He’s going to review 47 Ronin with us.
Hey guys, how exciting to be a guest reviewer I watched the movie with family, and have plenty of notes from my 10 and 15 year olds.
We’re introduced to Kai (Keanu Reeves) who is a half breed and an outcast. Kai saves the life of one of the samurai but this is unacceptable as a samurai cannot rely on the help of the untouchable.
We also see here that one of the main characters, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), is curious about Kai – noticing blood on his hands from the battle where he saved the Samurai’s life. The Samurai receives credit for the battle, though Oishi may know differently.
The Emperor comes to the village of Ako and the leader of Ako must put on a good show. But a witch casts a spell on Lord Asano who attacks one of the Emperor’s men – Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). This is a great offense as attacking a guest loses face. The Emperor demands Asano commit suicide as atonement. Once their lord is dead, the 47 samurai of Ako become leaderless Ronin and are banished from Ako forever. The Ronin hide from Kira for a full year to give him a false sense of security. Then, Oishi calls the group together to take back their city from Lord Kira. And we’re off…
So what did you guys think of 47 Ronin? Personally, I have mixed feelings. The story is compelling, based on actual legend. The visuals are impressive, and Keanu Reeves does a nice job handling a difficult part. 47 Ronin tells a nice story about a set of outcasts who must redeem themselves. It’s a classic mythic tale reminiscent of many Cinderella and ugly duckling stories.
But 47 Ronin makes the mistake of telling the story and depicting many fight scenes at the expense of much-needed character development. We never really get to know any of these characters, and the end result is that it was difficult for me to care about them.
I love action adventure, mystical magic, and movies based on lore. But am with you Scott, there were many parts of the movie that had so much potential, then sort of left me slightly disappointed. Not sure what happened in the making of the film, as it felt like portions of the film missed the mark – from the potential of Lord Kira’s chosen warrior (lots of intrigue and mystery) to a love plot that almost felt distracting. I have to say what saved the movie for me was the character of Oishi….more on him later.
I agree with you, Jay. What struck me most was how unnecessary the Keanu Reeves character was. To add on to what Scott said, if you removed Keanu all of the few elements he brought to the story could easily have been given to Oishi and it would have been a much better story.
In terms of hero development, the Keanu character doesn’t grow at all. But Oishi goes through many transformations. He starts out as a shamed samurai. Then becomes a drunkard. Then returns to full glory as a warrior. If you want a hero’s journey, as Jay points out, that’s the guy to follow.
I’d say that Reeves’ character, Kai, adds the element of the underdog to the mix. He’s the outcast, the half-breed, the Mr. Spock, the man who is never truly accepted. This type of character is common to countless hero stories and amplifies our rooting for Kai and the Ronin. But you’re right, Greg; the basic plot of the movie can exist without Kai. Perhaps Reeves was pulled into the mix to attract a wider fan base to the theaters.
As I’ve said, I was disappointed with the flimsy cardboard characters in 47 Ronin. My disenchantment may stem from the fact that we’ve seen so many movies lately that had very strong character development. I’m talking about films such as Saving Mr. Banks, Nebraska, Philomena, The Book Thief, and American Hustle. All these movies devote time to establishing a character’s history and personality. But in 47 Ronin, the only clue to a character’s personality is his or her label, and there were myriad labels: samurai, ronin, lord, shogun, witch, and half-breed. These labels don’t substitute for good characterization.
Both of you make great points about Kai as necessary or not in the movie. I did see Kai’s significance in helping create more clarity around the hierarchy system, and also provide a way for the viewer to see signs of early compassion in Oishi. Then again, that could have been accomplished without Kai’s character, giving the spotlight to Oishi.
Honor and the system of rules were significant theme’s in the development of the characters (what little there was, Scott). The inner conflict that Oishi dealt with around Honor, Rules, and Hierarchy gave a lot of credit to him as what I consider to be the Story’s Hero.
I think you’ve nailed it, Jay. Another thing that left me wanting was the special effects and fight choreography in this film. After the effects and fighting in such films as 1999’s The Matrix and 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it’s hard to look at 47 Ronin with any appreciation. The effects were sloppy and looked like children’s animation. The fight scenes were so choppy that sometimes it was hard to tell who was fighting whom. It’s been more than a decade since those earlier films, 47 Ronin should have at least tried to keep up.
Now that you mention it, Greg, fifteen years after its release The Matrix continues to be the standard in the movie industry. 47 Ronin’s CGI effects did disappoint a bit. Overall, I found 47 Ronin to be a mildly pleasant diversion but was let down by the uni-dimensionality of the characters. The characters were so plastic that I felt like I was watching a Saturday morning cartoon. For this reason, I award this film a mere 2 Reels out of 5. The hero story is this movie’s strong suit. The journey of the Ronin featured many of the classic elements that one likes to see in a strong mythic tale. I give Kai, Oishi, and these Ronin a solid 3 Heroes out of 5.
Scott, I couldn’t agree more. I did a little reading after watching 47 Ronin and the original Japanese legend is compelling. It’s been said that to understand Japan is to understand the legend of the 47. The honor system of the bushido is intricate and instills a great sense of awe. But this film doesn’t do justice to the legend so I give it 2 Reels out of 5. But the Oishi character was the one to watch in this film. I really felt his pain and final redemption as we followed him on his hero’s journey. I give Oishi and the 47 Ronin 3 out of 5 Heroes.
What fun, guys. I think what is telling right now is how I’m still conflicted over what I felt about the film. When leaving a movie that really rocks, you just know it. The fact that I’m still trying to figure out how to rate this movie is telling….too many times there were scenes when I wanted more (Like the mishandling of the character – mystical Lord Kira’s warrior)…..I give the movie 3 out of 5 Reels. Not sure though about the Hero’s rating, as I’m still a little miffed that Kai can be considered a Hero, Scott. Oishi is the man, and I give him 4 Heroes out of 5 for restoring his, and the Ronin he led, Honor.
Thanks, Jay, for joining us today to review 47 Ronin. If you are an athlete and want to improve your game by overcoming your inner rival, check out Jay’s company The Inner Competitor (http://innercompetitor.com).