Friday, 10 November 2017
47 Ronin (2013)
The story of the 47 Ronin is probably one of the best known tales of Japanese history. In the 18th century, a feudal noble was forced to commit seppuku after attacking a court official. Forty-seven of the dead noble's samurai then plotted for a year to assassinate the official and reclaim their master's honour. Then they too committed seppuku, since in the eyes of the law they had committed murder.
This American adaptation of the story embellishes events in a number of ways. The court official becomes a malevolent rival lord who deliberately goads the samurais' master into a dishonourable act. He's aided in this plot by a shape-changing witch, who uses her sorcerous powers to beguile animals and humans alike, while the ronin appeal to the tengu (forest demons) for aid in their quest. And it also adds a romance subplot between the dead lord's daughter and one of the 47.
Honestly, I'm okay with all of the above additions if they make the film more enjoyable. Spoiler: at least for this film, they don't. I'm also rather less than thrilled about the decision to make the central character and love interest for the daughter be an alleged "half breed" played by the not actually Japanese at all Keanu Reeves. Where there really no Japanese American actors (or part Japanese American actors) who could have carried the role? It's not like Reeves was exactly a major box office draw at the time, as the film's catastrophic financials show.
I'm sure you could make a good adaptation of the 47 Ronin with added supernatural shenanigans and romantic sub-plots, but this isn't that film. It's a disjointed collection of scenes that don't ever really gel together, and that often don't even measure up as individual sequences in and of themselves. Keanu's final encounter with the witch, for instance, is simply not terribly interesting to watch.