Universal Pictures’ rendition of 47 Ronin is quite possibly the most beautiful, hollow and poorly written film in the history of cinema. One of the most famous tales of revenge in the world, has been turned into Hollywood fodder, in which this dutiful tale is reduced to fluff. The film stars Keanu Reeves as Kai, a lone man who works for Lord Asano of Ako (Min Tanaka), who found Reeves as a young boy in the forest. Reeves was trained as a child by Tengu, bird demons that reside in the forest, that have given him a talent with how to wield a sword, that make his movements and fighting style unlike any other normal human. Years later, a plot is hatched by Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and an evil witch (Rinko Kikuchi) to take over Ako, by framing him and making him look like a fool in front of Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). With Lord Kira losing face in front of the Shogun, he must commit ritual suicide, in which his loyal samurai retainers, led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), must become ronin, or masterless samurai. After they find out that their master was killed because of an evil ploy, Oishi recruits Kai and the other samurai, with the intent on stopping Lord Kira and the evil Witch from taking over the land.
What makes this film such a failure, is how dumbed down the story of the 47 Ronin is, just for the pure sake of pleasing western audiences. In itself, the 47 Ronin is one of the greatest revenge/tragedy tales from history, that just makes for engaging drama, but to infuse it with an American actor and gimmicky elements, just doesn’t work. I think the aspects of fantasy elements work to a degree, with the character of Rinko Kikuchi’s witch, the various mythical creatures and the interesting look of the Tengu, that help give a different take on Japanese mythology as a whole, but there isn’t enough of it to save the entire film. Even the Ronin themselves, whom you never even really learn about, save about three characters, which makes their risks and sacrifices fall flat for the narrative. If there is any saving grace to the film, it comes in the form of Rinko Kikuchi’s performance of the Witch, where she plays her as a great caricature, that is brought to life from both a physical presence and her portrayal. Its really clear that she’s having fun with the role, so for a portion of it, there’s some fun to be had.
The Blu-Ray for the 47 Ronin, presents the film in the best possible way, with a vibrant video transfer, a well defined audio presentation, but some measly behind the scenes extras that round out the disc. The video on the regular Blu-Ray edition is presented in an AVC encoded, 1080p transfer, with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The CGI elements and the elegant costume and production design, make for some pretty eye candy, while this snooze fest is going on. Each set piece is well defined and looks pretty great on the disc. The audio comes in three DTS HD Master Audio selections, an English 5.1 mix, a Spanish mix and a French mix. The only one I listened to was the English mix, which sounded crystal clear and full of energy. From the great use of sound mixing during action scenes, to even crafting elegance in the quieter scenes, the use of both dynamics and directionality, present a mix that would put other films to shame. Its really a shame, for all of the technical aspects of the disc are pretty amazing and if this were any other film, it would be a real treat to watch, but 47 Ronin is unfortunately not a good time.
Its really a shame, for the 47 Ronin could have presented a wider audience with this great tale, that has existed in plays, various forms of Japanese art and even great films. Sadly, this is not the case with Carl Rinsch’s rendition of this tale, that wastes the great talents of many Japanese actors, dumbs down the essence of the tale and places an American emphasize, that is entirely unnecessary.