47 Ronin (2013)

I watched 47 Ronin a couple nights ago after looking it up on Wikipedia and seeing that it is based on a popular Japanese legend with and actual historical basis.

Based on the trailer (see above) I saw that it would feature mystical themes along with samurai culture. Asian mystical themes are always fun for me. And I enjoyed James Clavell’s novel Shōgun tremendously. So, despite 47 Ronin’s dismally low Rotten Tomatoes scores I hoped the picture could at least hold my interest and entertain me enough to keep watching, even if I didn’t love it. In general, I fairly easily allow myself to go where a film wants to take me. Anyway, I hoped for the best here.

Summary point: I did stay interested throughout, and I did find parts of it enjoyable. It is a very flawed film, though.

I mentioned Shōgun which is about a European man who is (most unusually) initiated into samurai culture in feudal Japan. And this film tries to blend in to the traditional story of the 47 ronin an element loosely resembling Shōgun: Keanu Reeves’ character Kai is mixed race European-Japanse who struggles to gain acceptance within feudal Japanese culture. (There are powerful racial prejudices in the society.)

Kai’s story is also framed within Japanese mysticism.

Best I can tell, none of the story about Kai’s character has anything to do with the actual story or cultural legend of the Forty-seven Ronin in Japan. Lacking a conceptual frame of reference beyond what I have already noted, that did not particularly bother me however. I ‘went with’ with these fanciful additions to the story in the interest of being entertained.

I don’t want to spoil, but I will say that the basic plot is that a particular samurai lord loses his samurai status, with the same applying to his house, and they become ronin. For those unfamiliar with the ronin concept, ronin are former samurai who have in some way lost face and as punishment are prohibited by decree of the region’s shōgun to die honorably by committing seppuku. As the title suggests there are 47 of them for this house. They however plot a revenge of the villain who orchestrated the house’s downfall. The character Kai is a member of the disgraced house, although he is not a samurai because of his mixed race. He is however their most powerful fighter.

I would say that, for me, the film barely worked more than failed in terms of 1) caring about characters, 2) whether the story held my interest, and 3) its direction, i.,e., the overall orchestration and craftsmanship of the cinematic storytelling.

I did not find this movie 47 Ronin to be a riveting or deeply immersive tale. Rather, I maintained more of a mild curiosity throughout. For me the film seemed to gradually dissipate in energy. Toward the end it felt to me like the picture was essentially going though the motions with regard to the final battle.

I did however care about Kai and his love interest Mika. I wanted to see what happened to them, and whether they might actually end up together despite the overwhelming odds against it. But I did not care much about any other character in the film, though.

The CGI for this picture is decent. Not extraordinary, but definitely good enough to get the job done. That said, good CGI that is a basic standard that filmgoers expect nowadays for any type of fantasy film. So the CGI would only have been remarkable if it was outstanding or poor.

If you’re intrigued by samurai culture and far east Asian mysticism, and don’t mind that the material is diluted and bastardized by a standard Hollywood treatment, then this film may be worthy of consideration and relatively worth your time. I usually don’t give stars for films, but if I did it would make two and a half for what it is and sets out to do–and that is mainly because the subject matter in general is something I particularly enjoy.

47 Ronin (2013)