Christmas 2013: the long wait was finally over and 47 Ronin was released in theatres. Originally prepared for release a year earlier, it was quite a bummer at the time to hear that the release was postponed for a year. This delay was brought forth by countless rewrites of the script and problems in post-production. Reports of first time director Carl Rinsch having difficulty making a well-balanced story of Eastern and Western elements surfaced. Clashes with the studio, pulling the story back and forth; the film certainly had its share of production hell.
It can’t be avoided that the above-named troubles have indeed somewhat affected the final film, with Keanu Reeves in the middle of many famous Japanese actors struggling in the colorful fantasy world of feudal Japan. I truly respect the filmmakers’ decision to choose an all Japanese cast to bring authenticity to the story, in stead of going for Asian actors that are more famous in Hollywood. This brings together an awesome assemble, including Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi and Kou Shibasaki.
Reeves portrays the main character, Kai, a so-called half-breed, living in the service of Samurai. Even though Reeves plays the lead role, it somehow feels like he is just a side-character. He seems kind of lost in the middle of the Japanese actors, and I felt more like Hiroyuki Sanada was the lead-role. Reeves himself appears to have had the same fears, as he was worried that his character would not be well integrated into the main story.
Reeves being surrounded by such a great cast of Japanese actors, what can possibly go wrong? Well, the problem is that the decision was made to let everybody speak English in stead of their mother tongue with added subtitles, an element that has become more and more common nowadays in Hollywood cinema. Tadanobu Asano plays the villain, and unfortunately can’t really escape the language problem as no Japanese, except for a few words here and there, is spoken in the film. Asano clearly can’t deliver as well as he normally does. He is a great actor and it stings to know that he probably could have played his role a lot more convincing and menacing if he were allowed to act in his own language.
Hiroyuki Sanada portrays the elegant leader of the 47 and as mentioned before, feels more prominently present and on his place than Reeves does. Kou Shibasaki is there to be eye-candy. She doesn’t have that much to do other than look pretty and helpless, which is quite a shame. Rinko Kikuchi, on the contrary, has more to do and plays a nice villain role.
The story of the 47 Ronin is a classic Japanese tale and the filmmakers decided to give this story a fantasy twist. It brings forth a beautiful and colourful world that is brought to life by state of the art Special Effects. It is easy to guess where the film’s gigantic budget was used for, as the visuals are truly stunning. It is a beautiful world full of exotic creatures and magic. A problem that arises within the story are the well-known Japanese elements of honour, respect and discipline. It is all too flatly displayed and placed in dialogue, and it can’t be avoided that these elements seem a bit forced and end up getting rubbed in the audience face a bit too much.
This all sounds very negative of course, but even though it has a lot of problems, 47 Ronin has still become an entertaining popcorn film with some exciting moments and action. But as a whole this production is probably quickly forgotten as it doesn’t leave an impression. The fantasy world is gorgeous and it all looks pretty, but as the plot bounces around a confused Keanu Reeves who shares the screen with Japanese actors that sometimes struggle with their lines, the film unfortunately is not what most people had hoped it to be.
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