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DIRECTOR: Carl Rinsch
CAST: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Neil Fingleton, Togo Igawa, Rick Genest, Masayoshi Haneda, Hiroshi Sogabe, Takato Yonemoto, Hiroshi Yamada, Shu Nakajima, Masayuki Deai, Yorick van Wageningen, Gedde Watanabe, Natsuki Kunimoto
RUNNING TIME: 119 mins
RATING: 2 stars (out of 5)
The eagerness of major studios to cozy up to Asian markets yields awkward results in 47 Ronin, a lumpy 3D epic that fuses Japanese historical legend with generic CGI-heavy action fantasy.
Carl Rinsch’s first feature falls short on character definition, emotional involvement, narrative drive and originality, with a protagonist played by Keanu Reeves who often gets bumped to the sidelines.
As we hear in the opening voiceover, the saga of the 47 ronin dates back to early 18th-century feudal Japan. The disenfranchised samurai avenged the disgrace and death of their master, Lord Asano, by killing Kira, the villain responsible for his dishonour, in direct defiance of the ruling Shogun’s orders to refrain from retaliation.
Their quest of loyalty and sacrifice would cost them their lives, either in battle or enforced ritual suicide as punishment for their transgression. Numerous accounts of the tragedy, many of them fictionalised, have been produced over the years.
The biggest problem with this retelling is the conflicted impulses of the hybrid screenplay by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini. It strives to be respectful of source material deeply embedded in Japanese popular culture, while juicing up the story for Western audiences raised on action movies, videogames and broad-strokes melodrama.
Given the inscrutable nature of the samurai code, the key concession to international sensibilities is the introduction of a fictional outsider to find redemption on a hero’s journey in which he leads the stoical warriors to victory. That would be Kai (Reeves), scorned as a “half-breed”, believed to have been raised in the forest by demons.
Rescued by Lord Asano (Tanaka) as a boy, Kai grows up devoted to the feudal leader, sharing a secret love with his daughter Mika (Shibasaki).
Meanwhile, treacherous Lord Kira (Asano) and his shape-shifting sorceress advisor (Kikuchi) plot his rise to power and Lord Asano’s downfall. Kai’s warnings of witchcraft go unheeded, leaving the samurais robbed of their leader and exiled, Asano’s top-ranking deputy Oishi (Sanada) imprisoned and Mika promised in marriage to Kira. But when Oishi is released, he tracks down Kai. Regrouping the ronin, they plan their attack on Kira.
Reeves plays Kai’s chronic low self-esteem, his troubled soul and hunger for justice with the same permanently furrowed brow. That fits with Rinsch and the screenwriters’ prevailing solemnity and inexpressive approach to the character. But while much is made of the star-crossed lover angle between Kai and Mika, and his gradual earning of the respect of the ronin, Kai seems grafted on to the story.
Too much of the poorly paced movie either bogs down in exposition or marks time.
Cinematographer John Mathieson does a classy job, bringing majesty to the visuals. The use of 3D is restrained, but inevitably seems a superfluous flourish when slapped on to a noble tale of loyalty, honour and the ancient ways of bushido. – The Hollywood Reporter
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