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.

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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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Tokyo Daytripper: The 47 Rōnin At Sengakuji Temple

With a big Hollywood actor now starring in the forthcoming ‘47 Rōnin‘ movie the story of these 47 loyal samurai will be taken to an all-new and much bigger audience. Unbelievably, its one of those rare films which gets its worldwide release here in Japan whilst the UK and USA have to wait till Christmas time for its release. Keanu Reeves has top billing and he’s ably supported by Rinko Kikuchi of ‘Babel‘ (2004) and ‘Pacific Rim‘ (2013) fame. Hiroyuki Sanada from ‘The Last Samurai‘ (2003) is also cast.

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For anyone wanting to get a real feel for this story they really ought to make their way down to Sengakuji Temple which possesses the burial ground of the 47 loyal samurai who  (WARNING: plot spoiler coming up for anyone who doesn’t know the story!) set out to avenge the death and dishonour of their leader by raiding the chief instigators castle where they ruthlessly and violently beheaded him. Their following collective action was to commit suicide which was seen as an honour.

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Arriving at Sengakuji you encounter the outer gate (above left) and then the inner gate (above right) and just to the right of that is the statue of Ōishi Yoshio (below); the real leader of the 47 rōnin.

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To be honest I’d never really had too much affection for Sengakuji Temple despite having been there three or four times! However, that was before I begun to realise its deep history rather than just checking it off a list of sights to get round as part of some of my Tokyo cycling challenges. These have included cycling Tokyo’s Top 25 Sights in one daywhere I didn’t even go inside, and last year I learned a bit more about the place as I cycled there on a themed tour of Tokyo’s most haunted sights.

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Once you’ve gone through the inner gate there is a path on the left which will take you towards the graves of the 47 rōnin. There is a tiny hut selling postcards, candles and incense sticks and just beyond that is the map which indicates where each warrior, who was willing to die for their lord, is buried though sadly its only in Japanese.

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No less than six films have already been made about the forty-seven Rōnin. I haven’t seen any of them and I can’t say that the trailer really got me too excited. It all looks a bit like a coming together of ‘Gladiator‘ (2000), ‘Lord Of The Rings‘ (2001), ‘Attack Of The Clones‘ (2002) and ‘The Last Samurai‘ (2003) but who can really tell from just two minutes of fast paced and cleverly edited footage.

This fantasy adventure and martial arts story of the 47 warriors who seized eternity was filmed in Budapest, London and the Isle of Skye in Scotland. We were originally told that it was not shot in Japan at all but sources are now saying that filming did indeed conclude here. We will find out very soon for sure!

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Sengakuji Temple is at 2-11-1 Takanawa in Minato-ku and ‘47 Rōnin’ is released in Japan on the 6th December 2013

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Sydney Filming Locations: The Matrix (1999)

Can’t say I ever cared too much for this 1999 film but it does have some great action scenes which in some ways compensate for the “as if!” moments. Even though it doesn’t reference Sydney that is where most of it was filmed as the city’s Central Business District portrayed a generic metropolis better than most of its world city counterparts due to the lack of highly recognisable skyscrapers.

Keanu Reeves plays Neo; the computer programmer who leads a double life and is chased down by Matrix agents on 12 mins at the Westpac Plaza (below left) on 273 George Street where he works. He does try to escape from them by climbing out on to the window ledge on 16 mins before admitting defeat and giving himself up for capture.

 

The combat training featuring the distracting woman in the red dress takes place at Martin Place (above right) on 57 mins where the street meets Pitt Street. This circular fountain is where Morpheus tries to explain something or another about the Matrix and six years later the very same fountain appeared in ‘Superman Returns‘. A screenshot and different photo from that film can be seen here.

Chifley Plaza at 2 Chifley Square is the tower (below left) holding the restaurant which comes on screen after 64 mins where Cypher switches sides over a juicy and delicious steak with Agent Smith whilst uttering some b*llocks about his steak not really existing.

 

The Westin Hotel at 1 Martin Place (above right) was used for interior shots involving the chase scenes and the ‘deja vu’ cat around the 78 min mark on the hotels grand staircase below.

 

 

Above left is the Colonial State Bank Centre which can be found at 52 Martin Place. Agent Smith holds Morpheus captive here on 91 mins after their slowly choreographed fight 27 mins earlier. On 106 mins the Aon Tower (above right) at 201 Kent Street can be seen behind the building rooftop where Neo and Trinity take part in one of the most ridiculous slow-mo shooting scenes in cinema history before they take a helicopter on 107 mins and fly in front of the aforementioned Bank Centre where they fire at the evil Smith and his fellow kidnapping pals. Morpheus leaps for freedom and is miraculously caught by Neo as tends to happen in films. The helicopter then flies over Sydney’s relatively anonymous skyscrapers with them dangling down from it. Having dropped off Morpheus, Neo lands safely on the Allianz Centre (below left) on 110 mins but the helicopter crashes into the British Telecom Tower (below right) opposite it. These two buildings are located at 2 Market Street and 1 Market Street respectively.

 

Much of the film was of course made in the studio with Fox Studios Australia (below left) in Moore Park being the ones used. ‘Star Wars Episode III‘ and ‘Moulin Rouge‘ among others were also shot here. The corner of Pitt Street and Hunter Street (below right) was the location for the fake phonebox where Neo makes a final phone call to the machines on 128 mins.