Review: Films Set In Japan – 47 Rōnin (2013)

As the end credits finally roll on this 121 minute tale of honour, loyalty and sacrifice a caption says, as it usually does in all movies, that “all characters appearing in this work are fictitious” and so on which is a shame as the story of these 47 brave heroes is far greater than what’s served up in this over-fictionalised film.

Admittedly, expectations for this new re-working of a famous Japanese story were pretty low to start with and the additions of CGI beasts, monsters, witches, ghosts and gladiators did nothing to stop the rot. In fact, they did more harm than good in my opinion and Keanu Reeves playing a “half-breed” character created solely for the film wasn’t much better. I felt his character Kai was rather under-used in the first half of this movie and though he has more time on screen in the latter part its clear that his presence is just for the benefit of Hollywood with laughable English dialogue and some romantic shenanigans thrown in for good measure too.

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Feudal Japan was recreated on a specially created set at Shepperton Studios in London as well as in Budapest and the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The story starts off with Kai being found and raised by Lord Asano as a servant who acquires some sword mastery and the affections of his daughter, Mika. However, he doesn’t gain the respect of Asano’s band of samurai including Oishi played by Hiroyuki Sanada from ‘The Last Samurai‘ (2003). Anyway, there’s some kind of hallucination trick performed on Asano by neighbouring lord Kira and Rinko Kikuchi’s witch character that results in him having to kill himself as punishment.

47-Ronin images

Without their master the samurai are brought together again one year on with a plot to avenge their avenge the death and dishonour of their leader by raiding the chief instigators castle. By now Kai is a much better and improved fighter having spent the year as a slave fighting beasts, monsters and what-have-you-not. Needless to say that he eventually earns the respect of those that previously looked down on him.

My girlfriend’s mum was originally going to accompany me to this but sadly had to pass on such an invitation which was a shame as I’d love to get the opinion of a Japanese person on this. Whilst I was groaning with displeasure at the terribly cheesy dialogue and bad English (and that was just from Reeves!) in the films final scenes the lady sat a couple of seats to my right was blubbering and sniffling away no end. I’m not Japanese and so can’t really pass judgement too much on Japan’s most famous example of the bushido code but I would’ve thought the Japanese people would be embarrassed by this over-the-top Hollywood version.

Only a few days ago did Beyond The Movies bring you the backstory on the real 47 Rōnin and where their resting place can be found in Tokyo The film ends with a caption or two informing the audience that every December 14th, the 47 Rōnin are honoured with a procession and ceremony at Sengakuji Temple. Those reading this in Japan would be better off spending their time visiting that temple than watching this.

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Tokyo Fox Rating 4/10

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