When I saw the trailer, back in 2012, for 47 Ronin, I was impressed with the visuals, and enticed by the mythology and theme that the film was going to deal with, but at the same time concerned by the casting and the inevitable heavy-use of CGI. Still, I ignored reviews and went into the film, later than many, with an open mind and willingness to enjoy whatever the film offered, so long as it didn’t insult me.
Carl Rinsch makes his directorial debut, and it’s quite a brave way to begin your filmmaking career. An apparent 175 million dollar budget, 47 Ronin was bound to immediately cause a stir and upset many with the way it created a spin on historical event and used Keanu Reeves and a vast amounts of CGI monsters to tell its tale. It’s understandable too that those familiar with the tale on which 47 Ronin is based might be upset with the film, though I, unfamiliar with the details of its basis, had a different reaction to the movie.
Keanu Reeves plays Kai, a “half-breed” who is found as a child in a forest by Lord Asano and his samurai warriors. Taking Kai to live with him in his castle. We fast forward seven years and Kai is not a part of the samurai warriors or the family that allowed him into their castle grounds, but rather an outcast who helps around the grounds when called upon. He is not considered a warrior of any kind, though he has proven his use in battle and been ignored by his refusing peers. Lord Kira enters the village to fight over the hand of Lord Asano’s daughter, Mika, and the evil plot of Lord Kira comes into play as he, along with a supernatural witch, attempt to take over the kingdom. When a tragic event occurs in the kingdom and the samurai are relieved of their samurai name, Kai is called upon by his former detractor Oishi to help seek vengeance and stop Lord Kira from marrying Mika. Along with the former samurai and other villagers, 47 Ronin are assembled and they plan their attack of revenge and proof of loyalty.
I was pleased, as the film began, to see that Rinsch was going all-out on creating a fantasy action film with martial arts and historical nods, rather than attempting a historically accurate samurai film. I don’t feel like the latter would have worked. The opening scene buzzes with action, but I was immediately disappointed with the lacklustre CGI that was used with, specifically, the white fox. It looked dropped into the picture like it wasn’t supposed to be there. This wasn’t the best start. The CGI improves though, and its usage wasn’t as regular as I had expected it would be. The settings looked fantastic, and I loved seeing the ancient Japanese buildings, the white blossom trees, and the vividly bright colours of the costume design that existed in pretty much every shot. The martial arts, when used, was done really well too, and I thought Reeves, an actor known to be wooden and a little corny with his delivery of dialogue, was fine here. The standout, for me however, was the Witch, played by Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Survive Style 5+), I thought she was excellent as the demonic and fantastical villain and would have loved to have seen more of her in the film. I was also impressed by Hiroyuki Sanada (Ring, The Wolverine) as Oishi, he was as much a lead character as Reeves’ Kai, and he did a great job.
The acting surpassed my expectations, the visuals, with the exception of some dodgy CGI work, was often really beautiful, and the story was entertaining. I was impressed with this film, what can I say? With the amount of poor action fantasy films making the rounds these days, and the lack of entertaining adventure movies (I can’t think of many other than The Hobbit films), I found this to be a charming and enjoyable slice of popcorn cinema. If you go in to this film not expecting a history lesson, or a timeless cinematic masterpiece, then I think many people should enjoy what it has to offer.