A Fanboy’s Ode to Feudal Japan: 47 Ronin Movie Review

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I didn’t hate 47 Ronin as much as I hated The Man with the Iron Fists. In fact, I don’t really feel passionately about it at all. I neither loved nor hated it. In trying to figure out what it was that bothered me, that thing that was missing, I came across the word “dull” in other reviews.

That’s right. A movie featuring a shape-shifting witch, 47 ex-samurai, and a monster or two was dull.

The plot of the movie (supposedly) centers on Keanu Reeves’ character, Kai, a half-breed foundling. It’s loosely based on the story of the 47 Ronin, an actual event in Japan’s history. After their lord is disgraced, 47 of his loyal retainers pretend to submit to the will of the Shogun, but in actuality, they are planning revenge.

What I liked

Setting

I really enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the not-authentic-but-still-fun costumes. Cherry blossoms and mountains abound!

Acting

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I also liked Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance, and the fact that he actually seemed to be the true main character of the movie. He was the character experiencing growth, gathering the others, and leading the mission. Keanu’s character mostly seemed to be along for the ride, with very few of his thoughts revealed, and no noticeable amount of character growth.

Another fascinating person to watch was Tadanobu Asano as Lord Kira. I feel as though they could’ve gone further with his motivations and deprivations, but the little we’re shown is still a fun, swaggery evil-doer.

Monsters

The mystical creatures were really fun looking, and I would love another movie set in this same world, which is kind of like a live-action anime world. Their interpretation of Tengu demons is probably my new favorite version of the monster.

Bushido

Although it was far from perfect, the portrayal of bushido and the band-of-brothers feel is exactly what I want from my terrible samurai movies. I grew up on movies like this, though without the big fantasy budget. I also used to tell people I wanted to be a samurai when I grew up, so all the super-honorable warrior behavior was right up my alley.

What I didn’t like

Role of Women

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Of course, the role of the women was an issue for me. I understand that they were attempting to be somewhat accurate, and this time period wasn’t kind to women in Japan. That being said, if you can add a dragon, you can add an interesting female character. Perhaps the closest we come is Rinko Kikuchi, the Witch, who appears to be the real mastermind behind the entire evil plot.

However, the Witch doesn’t even get a name, has no backstory, and is portrayed, via clothing and body language, to be a whore: a lustful woman who uses poisons and magic to get her way. Of course, this woman in full control of her sexuality is evil. Excuse me while I yawn at this lazy portrayal of a wicked stepmother.

The other woman, Mika, portrayed by Kô Shibasaki, is our wholesome little princess in need of rescuing. The only interesting aspect to her role was the chemistry between her character and Lord Kira. The looks that passed between the two of them were very intriguing, but were never followed up on, as she clearly couldn’t have a fascination with the bad guy. She loves Kai, the dirty half-breed.

Nitpicking Time

I know this couldn’t be helped, but it bugs me when something is in English but almost the entire cast is speaking heavily accented English. It would have made more sense for everyone to just speak Japanese! It may also have helped with the sometimes stiff-sounding expositions.

Final Verdict

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Score: C+

I enjoyed the world they created, and would love to visit it again, but the film wasn’t terribly exciting and I left feeling as though not enough happened.

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