Main cast: Keanu Reeves (Kai), Hiroyuki Sanada (Oishi), Kou Shibasaki (Mika), Tadanobu Asano (Lord Kira), Rinko Kikuchi (Mizuki), Min Tanaka (Lord Asano), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Shogun Tsunayoshi)
Director: Carl Erik Rinsch
After delays and schedules, 47 Ronin finally saw the light of day, in a time when having Keanu Reeves headline a movie is as relevant as asking James Frey to write your memoir. It’s not like these people spent the time polishing the movie into pure gold, though.
Keanu Reeves plays Kai, basically the Special White Guy character in the midst of surly Japanese samurai and hot Japanese ladies wearing flowing kimonos regardless of whether it is practical to do so. Taken in as a boy by Lord Asano, Kai grows up as the resident servant boy, treated by all as an annoyance at best, and a demon at worst. Only Mika, Lord Asano’s daughter, is nice to him, but that’s because she is the designated love interest and, therefore, has to like Kai even when Kai shows as much personality as a door knob.
Basically, Lord Kira and his concubine, the witch Mizuki, want to cause trouble and seize Lord Asano’s kingdom. Naturally, Lord Kira wants to get down with Mika too, while Mizuki has no good reason to do what she does other than she’s the resident evil witch stereotype. Lord Asano dies eventually, leaving his loyal samurais led by Oishi, to plot revenge despite being forbidden to do so by the Shogun. Kai tags along. Can these guys take down the meanie and his girlfriend before Kira marries Mika and Kai will be sad forever?
47 Ronin is a fantasy romp inspired by the historical account of the band of ronin in history, but, aside from kimonos, samurai swords, and mentions of “tengu”, there is little here that resemble a fantasy Japanese flick. The whole thing is more like a typical European medieval fantasy thing, only with people dressed up in Japanese costumes and speaking English in Japanese accent. There is also the ritual suicide thing, but it is given a treatment that turns this intimate ritual into a circus sideshow. Oddly enough, the movie does keep to the spirit of the Japanese concept of honor and loyalty of those times, when everything else about it is anything but Japanese.
The movie also doesn’t know who should be in the spotlight. Early on, Kai is built up to be the hero, but he plays more of a secondary role in the later part of the movie. The script is also hopelessly muddled when it comes to defining Kai’s role in the plot. He has powers, there is a build up in this movie that has me thinking that these powers would be amazing, but in the long run, these powers don’t really matter much.
Keanu Reeves is, predictably enough, as wooden as can be, but he is not alone, as the rest of the cast all play their underwritten and flat roles with the enthusiasm of sheep being led to the abattoir. The pacing of the movie is sluggish, adding to the wooden stiffness that plagues this movie from start to finish, and the “action scenes” feel clunky and tiresome.
47 Ronin has all the unfortunate trademarks of a badly-made straight-to-DVD bargain bin material, so heaven knows why anyone would even think of releasing it in theaters. The fact that the studio actually wrote off this movie as a loss even before it was released suggested that not everyone in Hollywood is crazy after all.