Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Rinko Kikuchi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Running Time: 118 Minutes
47 RONIN is a Hollywood adaptation of a true story from Japan. It is helmed by a first time director, has faced much studio interference, and has its theatrical release delayed for over a year. The film should be a write-off. Yet, it is far from such. 47 RONIN is at times a magnificent big scale adventure film that is a lot more serious and thoughtful than many of its multiplex counterparts. It’s still very messy, mostly in terms of pacing and the cohesion between scenes, but it is very easy to see some specks of greatness as well. Even in its chopped form, it is still highly enjoyable, especially when it comes alive in its action sequences.
The film follows the true story of a group of 47 masterless samurai who seek justice/vengeance for their lord. The true story (or at least stories influenced by the tale) have been adapted many times for the screen, with some absolute classics from some of the masters of Japanese film. Although a riveting story, which sees thousands of people visit the graves of the 47 RONIN every year, it has been decided to make this a fantastical version with witches, strange beasts, and fighting demons. It may sound disrespectful or even needless, but at least this film keeps the key themes of honour and sacrifice that have made the story stand the test of time.
Keanu Reeves has been added for some star name power, but he surprisingly shares his screen time equally with Hiroyuki Sanada (RING, SUNSHINE, THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI). The addition of the fantastical elements are simply brilliant as they are brought to life with incredible special effects. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen due to creativity and realism. The film does the correct thing in making this a world full of magic and the like, removing any pressure to have characters distracted by such goings on. As Reeves journeys to meet his old demon teachers, we’re met with one of the best uses of special effects as a sort of decrepit human/lizard looking man looks disturbingly real. Other highlights include a forest beast which brings memories of PRINCESS MONONOKE, and a dragon which gives Smaug a run for his money (and he had a lot of it).
The plot does seem to stomp along, and the characters are defined by their morals to such a degree that it’s hard to find a connection with them. With so much focus on the fantasy elements, the earnestness with which everyone performs also seems out of place at times, but at least nothing was sugar coated. It’s just that you feel a sudden jolt when spat out of a fun and furious action sequence, into grim dialogue scenes. This is a lot of fun, and it just looks fantastic. Not given its due at the cinema, hopefully an audience can be found on Home Entertainment.
(3 / 5)47 RONIN is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 12th May.