The legend of the 47 Ronin is one of Japan’s most well-known and beloved legends, and is now also a movie. Dubbed 47 Ronin the latest blockbuster from Universal Pictures takes the real-world events from 18th century Japan, following 47 samurai who are bound to protect their leader Lord Asano (Min Tanaka).
Soon into the movie the samurai’s protection is soon tested after the court official Kira Yoshinaka (Tadanobu Asano) kicks off his plans of domination, helped by the shapeshifting witch named Kikuchi, he tricks Lord Asano into attacking him, thus forcing the Shogun to order Asano’s death. Kira is then granted the control of Ako (Asano’s home) and betrothed to Asano’s daughter Mika.
Knowing that their master was wrongly accused, the new Ronin’s wait and plan their vengeance for this act for over a year, forced to live in exile, they must try to take back their home and save their princess before she is forced to marry Mika.
Mika is no simple princess locked in a tower, representing the last hope for Ako, the Ronin fight to bring back prosperity to their hometown, alongside the restoration of their honour and justice, and to top it all off there is also a somewhat forced love triangle between Kai (Reeves), Mika and Kira, however as with any love triangle, it’s not one that is accepted.
As a “half-breed” Kai was born with a Japanese mother and a British father, leaving him as an outsider from the group. Seen as a demon, he doesn’t pose much more of a purpose than to simply introduce and explain aspects of the films story and perform some of the moves that special effects have been working on. This is only the first couple of problems I have with Kai as a character, the main one being that he feels unfinished, despite being one of the story’s main character, Kai’s story never feels truly completed.
And this is something that follows the story throughout, with a somewhat muddled storyline, there’s only small snippets of context given to each of the characters, many of whom seem more like prop pieces than actual characters, barely touching on Japanese mythology, 47 Ronin feels a little rushed and as if it has somehow lost the storyline during the editing process.
Alongside that the films characters are often unconvincing, in fact the most valuable character in my mind was Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanda), whose portrayal of the lost samurai left me the most invested. As the second-in-command for Lord Asano, Sanda gives off the feeling of true love for his leader and a true want to succeed in his goals, something I presume is due to the fact he has appeared in a couple of previous versions of the story as well as ‘Lost’, ‘The Last Samurai’ and even ‘What’s new, Scooby Doo?’.
47 Ronin also features a lot in the genre of fantasy, with mythical beasts and demons whom are only announced a couple of times during the story, with Kai’s demon up-bringers only being featured for about 20 minutes during the film, as if only to add some extra umpth into Kai’s final attack.
The scene in which these demon’s are featured is extremely simplistic, the group take a journey into a cave in order to acquire a set of swords, warned about a test they might have to take, you suddenly think, oh great, a fight scene is finally going to kick off, but only end in disappointment as you are faced with a test of patience rather than anything that might excite.
There is only one other hope, with the inclusion of Kikuchi as a shapeshifter this film could have easily been saved with a bit more mythical backstory, with no details into Kikuchi’s motives or even where she came from, the disappointing lack of filling carries on with the shapeshifter, who could have easily been extended beyond a simple plot device.
Thankfully the effects within the movie are generally good, particularly the dragon whose five minutes of fame is the best produced part of the movie, alongside the costumes and sets which can be seen in beautiful detail that uplifts the film with vibrant flashes of colour, however given the $175 million+ budget they could have definitely been better at various points within the movie.