Film Review- ’47 Ronin’ (*)

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"Keanu, for the last time, my name is not Morpheus."
“Keanu, for the last time, my name is not Morpheus.”

“47 Ronin”   (out of 5)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, and Rinko Kikuchi

Written by: Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini 

Directed by: Carl Rinsch

I’m no genius, but I’m guessing that if you need to showcase a man with real body-covering tattoos to sell your movie, but he’s only in one scene, your movie might not be able to stand on its’ own merits.  Such is the case with the dreadful ’47 Ronin’, a lavishly produced movie that seems to believe it is a standard-bearer for the genre, when the reality is quite embarrassing for everyone involved.  A $175 million production budget does not guarantee that the result will pop off the screen as it should, nor does it guarantee more than wooden performances from the cast.  It guarantees nothing, which is precisely what I took from this film.  It does not offer an original thought, and interesting idea, or perhaps the most damning statement of all, it does not offer anything worthy of deeming it cool.

The core story is a common one for those interested in Japanese history/mythology.  A shogun rules the land with an iron fist, and various villages offer up tributes to their ruler in the form of samurai battles.  The village of Ako is unique in that their governor/magistrate Lord Asano is benevolent, and even took in a “half-breed” boy they found in the apparently demon-infested forest.  This boy, named Kai (Reeves), has powers-we’re not sure why or how, but he could be a warrior.  I have no idea if the story behind Kai means anything, or in the end where he comes from, and to be honest, who cares?

The film’s turning point occurs when Lord Asano is betrayed by Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) from another village or province.  Kira uses a witch (Kikuchi), who can apparently conjure up poisonous spiders and shape-shift into a dragon and a smiling fox.  Yes, a smiling fox- not entirely unlike the viral video.  This witch sends her conjured spider to pee poison (basically) on Lord Asano’s lips, and thus cause him to do unruly things.  These actions bring disgrace upon Ako, meaning Asano must, ahem, relieve himself of duty.  Thusly, the samurai that serve under him no longer have a master, and are considered ‘ronin’.  After some time, these ronin, headed by Oishi (Sanada), seek to avenge their master using overly choreographed fight scenes and blades acquired from snake-men that have an unclear link to Kai.   Are you lost yet?  Does it really matter how they get from point A to B? I certainly had a hard time caring after witnessing all the ridiculousness.

First-time director Carl Rinsch doesn’t know which film to make here (if one can even consider it his in the end).  It’s stylish, for sure.  One can see, stylistically, why Ridley Scott originally tabbed him to direct “Prometheus”.  In fact, the film’s redeeming qualities are in the beauty of the locations and costumes.  What it lacks is a clear…direction.  Is it trying to be a mystical action film, or a historical epic?  If it’s an action film, why is the action boring? If it’s a historical epic, why did the filmmakers bother to get an all-Japanese supporting cast and then have them speak English the entire film?  There’s an obvious parallel to this, a film done so well that this pales in comparison- “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.  Ang Lee understood what type of film that should be, and dare I say “47 Ronin” may have been a far superior film with an experienced director.

At its’ best, “47 Ronin” is dull, by-the-numbers, and simply exists.  At its’ worst, it’s completely non-sensical and uninterested in paying respects to the cultural heritage to which it belongs.  Just to make sure they kick Japanese mythology in the teeth for good measure, Gedde Watanabe makes an appearance as the leader of an acting troupe.  This is the same actor who portrayed Long Duk Dong in “Sixteen Candles”, quite possibly one of the most racially stereotyped characters in cinema history.  Maybe everyone involved with this meant well, but the result is powerfully embarrassing.  There isn’t enough style to carry the lack of substance, creating a miserable, confusing experience that results in one of the worst films of the year.

*Note- There is no conceivable reason to see this film in 3D.  Nothing popped off the screen, and it’s clear it was simply a wash job to get back some of the money Universal stands to lose on this expensive stinker.

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