DVD Review - 47 Ronin

I could just say that I didn't get this movie because I'm not Japanese and because I don't get Japanese culture, but, from what I've read about this film's reception in Japan, it's a movie that simply isn't there for anyone to get. The first problem is that for a movie that's all about Japan, no one speaks Japanese, which clearly strains all the actors who are Japanese and possibly have English-as-a-second-language, with the exception of Keanu Reeves who doesn't have many lines of dialogue any way.

The second problem is the writing. The screenplay by Chris Morgan who wrote the last few The Fast and the Furious movies, and Oscar-nominee Hossein Amini, is pretty awful. Keanu Reeves plays Kai, a native who is referred to as half-breed. Reeves in reality is less than a quarter Japanese, but Kai is a runaway who is adopted by a Japanese Lord whose son accuses Kai of being a demon. This demonic or magical aspect of Kai is never truly explored or developed.

Kai, as a character, is never truly explored or developed. He's there for no real reason and the movie would have been fine without him. Kai falls in love with the Lord's daughter Mika, played by Ko Shibasaki. Yet, there is no chemistry between Reeves and Shibasaki, and the screenplay again does nothing to develop the relationship between Kai and Mika.

Hiroyuki Sanada (Sunshine and The Wolverine) co-stars as Ōishi, a samurai who wants revenge after Lord Kira, played by Tadanobu Asano, with the help of a witch, played by Oscar-nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel and Pacific Rim), pulls a coup and has Ōishi's master and Mika's father killed. Because Ōishi is a samurai without a master, he's known as a ronin. He gathers other ronins to help him get revenge on Lord Kira. Supposedly, he gathers 47. Never at any point do we feel that number or get that sense.

The movie feels like the recent 13 Assassins (2010) by Takashi Miike. Never do I feel like there are 47 ronins in this movie. I feel like there are only about 12 or 13 ronins. My issue with Miike's film is the same as I had with this one. This film, directed by Carl Rinsch, does it even worse, but, with the exception of one, this movie doesn't allow us really to become acquainted with the ronins. Miike's film allows us to get to know the assassins but not well enough to care.

With the exception of one ronin, and only because he's the overweight ronin who's comical, we don't get to know these ronin. Rinsch introduces the overweight ronin as he's naked and bathing in a lake. Morgan and Amini's script gives the overweight ronin a few funny bits of dialogue, so despite not knowing his name, there is some identification with this overweight ronin. If anyone's curious, that overweight ronin is Basho, played by first-time actor Takato Yonemoto.

Obviously, it would be impossible to get us to identify with 47, individual ronins in the space of a two-hour movie. You'd need a TV series running for about five or six seasons to do that, but I feel like this movie doesn't really try. Giving us some scenes of dialogue between the ronins would have helped, but, because there is so little identification, the fate of these ronin is one we don't care. The empathy is extremely low.

It makes the ending hollow. What happens at the end is a long-established custom or tradition in Japanese culture. Despite being horrible and literally a deadly tradition, it's unquestioned by Japanese people. Because I'm not Japanese, it's a tradition I don't understand. It would have helped immensely if I had cared about these ronin, but I didn't.

One Star out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.


  1. Imagine 300 done with the narrative and aesthetic style of 13 Assassins – that is what 47 Ronin could have been if it only stuck with the original story.


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