Tuesday, December 31, 2013

47 Ronin A Confusing Journey

Keanu Reeves stars as feudal Japan's 'Great White Hope' in the beautiful and odd 47 Ronin.


ARTH VADER (AV): While this movie does NOT follow a predecessor directly, this story has been told a few time by Hollywood. In the vain of the bumbling westerner (or 'Half-breed" in this case) a non-Japanese hero rises to become a savior. We saw this with Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, with MIchael Douglas in Black Rain and now again in this film. Also, as the film shares during the end-credit roll, that the story of the 47 Ronin is one that has been passed down through the years and is highly regarded example of Japanese heroism, revered the world over. Did Hollywood do this story justice, Pontificator?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Well Vader, that depends on whom you ask. Based on “true” accounts, this film strays from the “facts” in many areas. Firstly, Kai (Keanu Reeves) is completely made up for the film. No doubt all the magical stuff is also fictional (but you never really know huh?). Chikara (Oishi’s son) was not spared by the Shogun. There are undoubtedly more inconsistencies, but the film was still very entertaining despite some continuity divergence.


AV: Director Carl Rinsch shoots a handsomely crafted visual experience in 47 Ronin. The cinematic display of this film is gorgeous. As for the casting, well I will say, that the cast is a near-perfect depiction of prominent Japanese and asian actors and actresses that would make this film gripping and authentic in the order of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kagemucha or The House of Flying Daggers or any number of other Critically acclaimed Asian-only casts (yes I am aware that many of these stories are Chinese in origin, but please savior my point I apologize for any offense). In the case of this film, Keanu is as out of place as Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. Thoughts?

TP: Keanu Reeves headlines the film as the outcast Kai (a fictional character added for the film) and adds an interesting element to the film as well as an identifiable persona to widen audience interest. However, I’d say he’s more out of place than Cruise was in The Last Samurai. Rinko Kikuchi (last seen in Pacific Rim) plays the Witch, the main proponent of the mystical elements of the film. Hiroyuki Sanada (last seen in The Wolverine) plays Oishi, the lead Ronin (leaderless Samurai) charged with restoring honor to Clan Asano. It was good to see Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shogun Tsunayoshi, he’s been around for awhile and has always been a great actor. Overall, well cast for what it delivered with directing that made the film flow at a steady pace.

AV: Though I am hard pressed to understand precisely why, 47 Ronin commands some stunning visual effects. Complete with dragons, witches, mystical warriors and giant galloping beasts, not to mention some of thew most gorgeous environmental effects around. There were very cool visual effects sequences, Ponty, I just wasn't sure why they were all there. Am I being too persnickety, P-Man? 

TP: Maybe Vader, but I thought there was nothing groundbreaking in the special effects department… at all. In fact, the CGI was sub-par in comparison to what I have become accustomed to. The best effects were the costume design and fight choreography, which gave me sense of watching the classic series Shogun, mixed with The Matrix.The best effects were the simplest ones, while the big stuff suffered… big time.


AV: Wikipedia calls fictionalized accounts of popular japanese literature Chūshingura. This is probably the best way, I can think of Mr. Pontificator, to categorize this film. I know Mr. Reeves was inserted to add a 'familiar western face' to the film's otherwise completely Japanese cast but it comes off as the better-than-everyone-else-white-guy syndrome, also known as the great white hope syndrome and that just turns my stomach here at the end of 2013. C'mon Hollywood, we already have instances of critically acclaimed non-white films that have done well on their own; Hotel Rwanda, Slum-dog Millionaire, the original Old Boy (2004), 3 Idiots, The Life of Pi, and Yojimbo to name a short list of a deep selection of successful and cinematically important non-white films. 

TP: I’ve always been intrigued by feudal Japan and absolutely love good films depicting that era… even ones that take liberty and add mystical beings to the mix. Sadly, not everyone is as enthralled as I am, thus the need to add Keanu Reeves to make the film palatable for an American audience. Without his name headlining, this film would likely get no response from moviegoers, and that speaks volumes about the state of our society. Digging deeper still, I’m betting the whole “forbidden love” angle of Reeves character was a larger, if not equally so, object of intrigue for audiences as the appearance of Reeves himself. Now, what does that say about our society?


AV: No, please… just no. One was enough, thank you very much.

TP: This story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. There is no room, nor any need to do a sequel. If Hollywood is smart, it will leave this classic Japanese story alone (err, too late).

ARTH VADER rates 47 Ronin: Can't in all consciousness suggest that someone go and spend hard-earned money on this movie. Rental? NetFlix? Amazon Prime? Hulu? Maybe but consider this, I am an avid movie goer and mire watcher with a high tolerance for toxically bad films but I fell asleep on this film… twice. Had to go back and see it a second time to fill in the gaps of awfulness. So with that, I turn over just three (3) busted blocks to 47 Ronin. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates 47 Ronin: I’m a fan of films like these, but even I can see how the average moviegoer could get lost. Unlike Shogun, which kinda walked you through Japanese culture so as to establish an understanding before going deep into the material, there was no such help here, and I fear this lost a lot of people. The substandard effects didn’t help either, but I think this film still managed to slice seven (7) busted blocks…clean. 

47 Ronin: 5/10 Busted Blocks

1 comment:

  1. Just so's you know, Terasaka Kichiemon was spared seppuku, but since no one would remember who that was, that was probably why Chikara was saved instead.

    I happened to love it. The pacing was perfect, the mythology was intertwined into an ancient story wonderfully, and I thought the graphics were beautiful. My husband couldn't help but laugh at me every time I squeed over a new creature. It was a fun movie.

    My only complaint was that they cut out the extra Rico the Zombie scenes that were in the trailers. Or maybe Canada got a different cut.

    I am with Pontificator in that I really hope they don't try to squeeze a sequel out of it.