Saturday 18 January 2014

Film Review: 47 Ronin

47 Ronin is a historical epic set in Feudal Japan; an isolated and mysterious land of shogun, samurai and katanas. Oh, and witches, demons and weird-ass snake dragons. Apparently. I don't know, I'm no historian.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Speed, The Matrix), Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine, Sunshine) and Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim), 47 Ronin is a disappointingly dull, stiff and generally formulaic movie given the international acting talent on its roster.

Reeves plays Kai, a 'half-breed' living amongst the honourable samurai after being taken in by them when he was younger. They think less of him for being from an English father and he cannot become a samurai, or marry the master's daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki). When Oishi (Sanada) and his band of samurai are disgraced and banished from their kingdom, it is up to Kai to unite them and seek vengeance upon the evil overlord who killed their master and save the one he loves.

First off, let's squeeze out some positives shall we? Hiroyuki Sanada is actually really good as Oishi, the general who leads the ronin (disgraced samurai) alongside Kai. I'd go as far to say that he is the best thing about this movie. Like everyone else in the cast, he tries his best with the flat script and to a certain extent pulls it off, so a great job from him.

Others didn't excel so much with the run-of-the-mill script. Keanu Reeves is...well...Keanu Reeves. He gets about five lines of dialogue in the first hour of the movie, and then when he does speak, his acting is wooden and flat. What more did you expect? The evil witch (played by Pacific Rim's Rinko Kikuchi) also has some pretty laughable dialogue at times and overacts her part, which gets very tiresome very quickly.

The film loses its way when it tries too hard to incorporate mythical beings and magic to the narrative. The movie throws snake-dragons, Voldemort/owl-looking demons and multi-eyed horned beasts at us and expects it to stick amongst the traditional setting and vibe.

It feels as though it was aiming for a Clash of the Titans meets The Last Samurai story but the mythical elements just don't mesh with the traditional Japanese aspects. Leave the dragons at home, and play it straight. That way, you end up with an actually half-decent Last Samurai-esque movie, that doesn't degenerate into a slo-mo CGI fantasy halfway through. The CGI isn't even that good and really throws you out of the experience.

The films prologue sets up the historical story that the film is based-on, but then it deviates so much from being a historical movie, that it loses all validity. Why not go the whole-hog and make a 'mythical adventure' like Clash of the Titans/Pirates of the Caribbean and forget that it was 'based on' real events in the first place.

It just felt disrespectful to sell the movie as 'based on a Japanese legend' when dragons or witches have nothing to do with it. They are thrown into the movie purely to draw an audience who want to see cool action scenes and swordplay, not a well-scripted and respectful historical epic.

The Verdict: 3/10

47 Ronin is a very Americanized adaptation of the Japanese legend, which will no doubt sit poorly with audiences who were hoping for something very stripped back and respectful. Overly-mythical, drenched with poor CGI and fairly wooden acting, 47 Ronin is a big disappointment. 


  1.  Hiroyuki Sanada gives the best performance.

    1. Sure does! :) At least he was a redeeming factor.



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