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Rating: 1.5 of 5 stars
A band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.
I’m not sure I knew what I was getting into when I first sat down to watch 47 Ronin. It seemed on a straight and easily followable path for the first few string of conflicts – a white kid found running through a forest full of demons by a Lord and his samurai is taken in by the Lord, given shelter and company in the form of his daughter, Lady Mika. This kid, who comes to be known as Kai, and Lady Mika fall in love – but they keep it very much a secret because he is ostracized by the village community. He endures all sorts of unfair treatment and abuse at the hands of children and adults alike, but he sees it as good “as can be expected.”
Things take a bit of a turn when the focus shifts to Lady Mika’s father, who found Kai, Lord Asano, and his right-hand man Ôishi. The rival clan’s leader, Lord Kira, visits and conspires against Lord Asano, bewitching him so that he has no choice but to commit seppuku – a form of suicide that’s meant to clear his family name and restore lost honor – which of course leaves his samurai masterless. With no master, his samurai become ronin, rogue ex-samurai who have no one to serve and are, in effect, no longer samurai at all. They are forbidden from avenging their lord’s death, Lord Kira takes Lady Mika as a prize bride as well as has Kai sold into slavery (or something) and Ôishi is thrown in the dungeon for a year before he reemerges with a plan to get back at Lord Kira for disgracing their master, Lord Asano.
Now, I didn’t realize it at the time, but after doing a little research on the tale that the movie says “is to know the history of all of Japan,” I know understand why this story lacked such focus – it’s creative control that’s to blame. Kai and Lady Mika are not originally part of this story – it’s about 47 ronin who avenge the wrongfully enforced death of their master. The addition of the Lady Mika and Kai love story detracts from this original tale in glaring, haphazard ways. Anything that had to do with Kai – and I mean anything – came across as inorganic, almost uncomfortably forced, incongruent with the rest of the story.
The thing is that this movie tries to make the story all about Kai and Lady Mika when in reality it literally has nothing to do with them. It treats the real stars of the tale – the ronin and their sacrifice – as side characters. I’m pretty sure I only remember the names of these people because they’ve been used in plenty of anime and manga, which I watch and read shamelessly. Ôishi, Kira, Asano, Chikara – Ôishi’s son, etc. If I didn’t already have an ear attuned to catch them, the only name I’d know would be Kai and Lady Mika’s.
Truth is, without the angle of Kai and Lady Mika, this would have made a pretty good movie. Not quite Hero-level (which I watched about three times before I satisfied the gaping hole that 47 Ronin left behind), but probably around 40% better than what it turned out to be. I do appreciate that, at the very least, the writers let Ôishi keep his moment of ultimate victory at the end and didn’t relinquish it into the hands of the character that wasn’t even in the source story.
But, honestly, more than anything, it couldn’t have been too much better because, regardless of much had been added and taken away from the original tale, this movie was plain old-fashioned boring in a bucket – bad storytelling at its dullest. That hole I mentioned that took three full watches of Hero to fulfill? It also took about 5 watches of The Mummy Returns (one of my favorites) and The Matrix Reloaded (another favorite) – and I still wanna watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon! I would have given The Last Samurai a good once-over as well, but I’d had my fill of white dudes saving the day in historical Japan for the year. (Seriously, that shit’s not cool.)
Well, for all that, the cast was remarkable, if I do say so myself. Kai (Keanu Reeves) remains as lackluster as ever (which made him a perfect The Matrix trilogy Neo :D), but every single one of the cast members outside of him awed me. Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), despite his funny hair cut, lent great honor to his role, bringing credit to his sacrifice. Lady Mika (Kô Shibasaki) wasn’t given an awful lot of depth, but her plight still sucked – and you can never ignore a woman who shoulders the unfair treatment of her muliebriety with dignity you can feel from the other side of the screen. My favorite, Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his son, Chikara (Jin Akanishi), make for a family team up there with the Captain and his son, Astinos, from 300. Then, of course, the villains we all love to hate did spectacular in their own rights, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), the witch (Rinko Kikuchi) and the shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) – although, I suppose, the shogun wasn’t exactly a villain so much as a man of his time and position, I guess.
Really, though, how can you not love that cast? Here they are in the real. One last thing, though? There is literally one random slow motion scene when Ôishi goes to rescue Kai from some ship on a port. It’s never used again. Hm…