Kai (Keanu Reeves) is a half breed, raised by the Tengu and rescued by Lord Asano of Ako. After Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) raised his sword to kill Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), he is ordered to commit seppuku and his samurai led by Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) are rendered Ronin. A year later, Ôishi is ready to seek revenge, but he first needs to seek help from Kai. The two of them are now leading a group of Ronin looking to avenge his master.
47 Ronin is based on true events referred as “Forty-seven Ronin” or Shij?shichishi (????) in Japanese. The Japanese literary accounts are known as the Ch?shingura (???). This new fantasy incarnation of the tale marks the first time it comes from a big Hollywood production, although the story has been brought to the big screen many times in Japan in small and larger adaptations. But as history has taught us time and time again, Hollywood takes incredible liberties with absolutely every historical piece it tries to throw at us, so don’t expect any historical accuracies here. Take it for what it is and not what it should be.
There are plenty of rumors of what really went on during production that ranged from the studio heavy involvement, a huge budget (rumored somewhere above $220 million), Keanu Reeves screen time, to Director Carl Rinsch not being able to editing the final cut, and I am sure there are far more things surrounding the production that we just simply do not know. What we do know, is that we are left with a film that doesn’t fulfill the grander scope that was originally planned. The film has very good base of ideas and had potential to become a much more successful film. Struggling in Japan during its theatrical run and it was definitely not as popular in the US market with almost $10 million opening weekend and $38 million Dollars overall domestic earnings, it left me wondering what could have been had the filmmakers delivered what they originally planned for 47 Ronin.
The movie itself had fantastic ideas for the Edo Period Japan. 47 Ronin is a fantasy infused film, using Japanese mythology for many of its character elements, which surprisingly they worked rather well considering that feudal Japan was as mysterious to foreigners and 47 Ronin tries to capitalize on that aspect. The cinematography is incredible and the costume design appears to be very authentic. The filmmakers decided to use a majority of Japanese actors for the film including the likes of Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki. Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in order to bring some authenticity to the film. However, whole idea of Keanu Reeves being the center attention takes away from that authenticity; some might even label it as another gross attempt to draw some interest in eastern culture, but I am not one of them.
My biggest problem with 47 Ronin wasn’t the story itself, but the way the movie was pieced together. Starring from its characters, we find little to no connection to the characters on the screen, the movie spends plenty of time building up something and then forgets about developing its participants that by the time a tragedy occurs we are left there wondering if we should feel bad for them. This is a major issue since all we have are shallow characters. The storyline often set a tone and spent a lot of time building up for a short action sequence. The middle of the movie felt incredibly slow and didn’t really offer any rewards in return. Making Reeves the focus of attention also took toll on the way the storyline was told, I am sure the screenplay called for such screen time, but it just didn’t really work well for much of the movie.
I am sure with a better editing process the movie would have worked better and despite its shortcomings there are few positives to take away from 47 Ronin. The cinematography coupled with the special effects is fantastic. Not to mention the quality work of the set designs and the fantastic work done on custom design. The latter is simply stunning work bringing to life the samurai armors and Japanese garments in a very colorful and beautiful way. The mythology involved in the film leaves a lot to the imagination. The set design and special effects are something else, the huge sets are created to resemble Japanese establishments and it’s beautifully recreated. The sword play and different styles are very obvious and put to display in very good form, which is something that I appreciate. Overall, the film could have been better than it was, I don’t hate 47 Ronin, but I am also not completely sold on the final product. The central theme of loyalty is intact which the real focus of this story is.
47 Ronin arrives on Blu-ray with a beautiful 1080p MPEG4-AVC encode with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The movie perhaps won’t match the grander scope of the visuals, but I have to say that this transfer is gorgeous. The image is very clean and pristine at every turn. There are a few shots of the sets featuring old style Japanese residence that are simply stunning. Colors are bright and vivid. Flesh tones are very lifelike. Black colors are deep and very rich; however, I didn’t see any crushing on the picture. The detailing is superb! There is an array of details in every frame from the sets to the garments worn by the lords and the Shogun to the samurai armor, you name it. We couldn’t have asked for more from the picture.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds great and excels more often than you think. The dialogue is clean and clear throughout even during action sequences. The rears are always active and provide excellent support with every minor set of effects. Even the score elevates and sounds fantastic taking full advantage of the excellent mixing job. The LFE channel is very active too, a few of the sequence really offer a nice oomph, and for example the beast scene in the beginning really lets you feel the thunderous destroying path. The track is excellent, sometimes a bit calm, but when the film picks up the track follows along without missing a beat.
Deleted scenes – There are a total of 4 deleted scenes: Mika regrets her love for Kai (1:43); Mika attempts to poison Lord Kira (2:13); Ôishi attempts to buy Kai from the Dutch captain (2:40); Isogai is entranced by the witch (1:05).
Re-Forging the Legend. (6:44) – Filmmakers and the actors talk about the story and the complexity of taking a popular Japanese tale and turn it into a big Hollywood production.
Keanu & Kai (4:00) – Filmmakers and Keanu reeves talk about the effort required to bring Kai to life.
Steel Fury: The Fights of 47 Ronin (5:54) – The stunt coordinator and the actors talk about the complexity of the traditional sword fighting found in the film.
Myths, Magic & Monsters: The FX of 47 Ronin (7:35) – The cast and crew talk about the special effects used in 47 Ronin using a base of Japanese mythology and western ideas.
Like I mentioned above, I don’t hate 47 Ronin, but it is hard to ignore a lot of its shortcomings. The rumored production woes really seemed to have affected the overall product and that really is a shame. The ideas and story where there the execution however was not. Hollywood is a hit or misses with historic pieces and this is another example of a wasted opportunity. There are some good elements in 47 Ronin, so take the movie for what it is. The technical aspects of this release are superb; the video really exhibits the excellent work of the set and custome designers and a worthy mention to the graphics and special effects designers as well. The audio track sounds great too and I have no complaints there either. The supplements are short, but it gives us a glimpse into what happens during production. Overall, if you are curious about 47 Ronin I would suggest a rent first.