Having seen trailers for the movie, my original expectations for the film were low. Women turning into dragons, walls of fire, and warriors scaling icy cliffs do not figure in the historical tale, so I had guessed that the only resemblance to the original would be the title. Fortunately, as I had noted from other reviews, this wasn’t actually the case, so I was more prepared to appreciate the movie when we actually got to it.
After a short sequence introducing the character of Kai, the foundling played as a grownup by Keanu Reeves, it is established that the film is set in a fantasy, “Mythic Japan,” as Kai, now working as a gamekeeper for Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), leads the lord and his men on a hunt for a marauding beast, which turns out to be an enormous six-eyed dragon-horse. So, we are definitely not in historical Japan, or the historically-styled fictionalizations of the “Chushingura” (忠臣蔵 The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, as it is often titled).
I won’t go into plot differences between this movie and the most commonly accepted versions of the historical facts: if you have encountered the story before, you know the gist of them; if you haven’t, you don’t need to know them to enjoy the new movie.
“47 Ronin” has many good points. Keanu Reeves, the only non-Asian in a major role, although given an important role, is not the leader of the Ronin, nor does he dictate their strategy. That role is correctly given to Lord Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a veteran actor, previous mentioned in this journal for “Twilight Samurai,” who does an excellent job, and he is well supported by a strong cast as the Ronin. Tadanobu Asano, as Lord Kira, plays the villain as a calculating but vicious brute who employs the Witch (Rinko Kikuchi) against his targets with cunning and spite. Whether Kira is using the Witch, or the Witch using him is a nice question, never clearly answered. The Witch’s true nature is never clearly defined, either, also left nicely ambiguous.
In Japanese mythology, Tengu are goblins/demons/spirits, often portrayed as dressing like men, but with the heads of birds. They are known for their sword skill, which they will sometimes teach. The Tengu as portrayed here have vulture-like features, which was quite effective. The magic skills taught by them to the foundling Kai play an important part in the movie, but only insofar as required to overcome the magic of the Witch. For the rest, the Ronin’s skill and daring are sufficient for them to accomplish their mission of righteous revenge.
Costumes are gorgeous and fantastic, being designed from a mashup of Asian cultures and periods. Settings are dramatic and interesting, and the special effects well done. Surprisingly, given that there’s quite a bit of sword fighting, beheadings, and two instances of ritual suicide, or seppuku, there’s very little blood on screen, and the violence is very tastefully done and actually restrained.
All things considered, “47 Ronin” is nicely done, and worth seeing for fans of fantasy action movies.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/248194.html. Please comment there using OpenID.