Review: '47 Ronin' is Westernized bushido

Posted at 01/10/2014 5:32 PM | Updated as of 01/10/2014 5:47 PM

Loyalty and honor in Japanese culture had been very elegantly presented in many movies about the Shogunate or feudal period of their history. I had always admired the nobility of their Bushido way of Samurai life, from watching films like "Ran", to more modern interpretations of the swordsman culture, like "Ruruoni Kenshin." I think "47 Ronin" will be joining that list.

Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) is the master of the prosperous house of Ako. A rival master, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), caused Asano to commit an act of assault by inflicting him with a spell care of his personal Witch (Rinko Kikuchi). The Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) meted Asano the sentence of seppuku, rendering his band of Samurai led by the loyal Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) as Ronin.

Ronin are Samurai who have lost their master. The title "47 Ronin" refer to this group of ex-Samurai who reunite to avenge the dishonor and death of their master. Among these Ronin is an half-breed of remarkable fighting skills named Kai (Keanu Reeves). Despite being considered an outcast because of his skin, Kai's own mystical past will play an instrumental role in their plan for revenge.

This film's story is very well-told by director Carl Rinsch from a screenplay by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini. The cinematography was absolutely impressive with its sweeping vistas as well as intimate close-ups. The production design spared no expense it seems for very elegant set pieces, from rock gardens to ceremonial grounds. The choreography of the rituals and fight scenes were very well-done as well.

The costumes by Penny Rose deserve award consideration with their elaborate designs and rich detail. Striking colors of red, gold and navy delineate the clothes worn by the three different armies in the film. Smart modern touches touch up the gowns worn by the two main female characters in the cast.

Keanu Reeves does well in his role as Kai as far as the acting was concerned, although I would have expected a younger actor to play the role. The main brunt of the acting though was on the shoulders of Hiroyuki Sanada, who played the lead Samurai Oishi. His screen presence was very strong and his impassioned performance was imbued with dignity.

Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi chews up her every scene as the Witch, as she gets to interact with a lot of the film's computer-generated special effects. Ko Shibasaki graces the screen with her ethereal beauty and refinement as Miko, Asano's regal daughter, who had a forbidden love complicated by an unwanted betrothal decreed by the Shogun.

Overall, I thought this was a very satisfying total movie experience, where you get transported to an exotic time in history when loyalty and honor, virtues so rare in this day and age, still ruled. The writing, technical and acting aspects all contribute to a visually vivid and emotionally moving film, albeit a Westernized (everyone speaks English here) fantasy with relatively lighter-weight treatment than the Kurosawa classics. Nevertheless, it does just fine for me. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."