Dir: Carl Rinsch • Wri: Chris Morgan, Hassan Amini • Pro: Pamela Abdy, Eric McLeod • DOP: John Mathieson • DES: Jan Roelfs • MUS: Ilan Eshkeri • CAST: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi
The 47 Ronin of the title are a group of disgraced former samurai who attempt to reclaim some honour by overthrowing a ruthless shogun who has taken over their city and avenging the death of their master. The story is a popular piece of Japanese folklore. This film throws in fantastical elements such as dragons and witches and also Americanises the tale somewhat by adding in a character of a ‘half-breed’ played by the distinctly un-Asian Keanu Reeves.
Given the oddness and potentially disrespectful nature of this set-up and the fact that this mega-budgeted film was directed by a first-timer in Carl Rinsch, it seems as if it had already been decided, prior to anyone seeing the film, that it was a disaster in the making. The fact that the film is headlined by the often unfairly maligned Reeves has not helped this peculiar-sounding picture’s cause with public and critical consciousness. While the film is certainly not particularly good, it is also not the disaster some wags had tipped it as.
The film is consistently fairly nice to look at and the film’s impressive visuals are only mildly hampered by the annoying 3-D. Reeves is fine, allowing Sanada take the limelight as the film’s real protagonist. The film’s action is a bit stilted and while in terms of frequency and body count, the film is exceptionally violent, the bloodless nature of said violence (likely as a result of the film aiming for a PG-13 rating in the States) leaves one feeling a bit numb as opposed to it having any visceral affect. This also raises questions as to who the film’s audience is. The fantastical elements seem designed for children, yet the film has a brooding, meditative quality that would likely alienate a younger audience. One suspects that the filmmakers had a serious-minded approach to the material in the hope of avoiding accusations of the film being disrespectful to Japanese culture. Yet this seriousness sits uncomfortably alongside B-movie and child-friendly attributes, leaving the film’s overall tone to be one of deep uncertainty.
At 120 minutes the film is also vastly overlong. While the first hour or so is reasonably diverting, one does find themselves rolling their eyes and shuffling in their seats as the second half of the film progresses.
Ultimately the film manages to be both fairly unusual yet largely uninspired. One almost wishes it was the disaster people expected it to be, as then it might have at least made some lasting impression on those who watch it.
12A (See IFCO for details)
47 Ronin is released on 27th December 2013