Saturday, 28 December 2013

47 Ronin (3½ Stars)

It was with some hesitation that I went to see this film in the cinema. After all, the leading role is played by Hollywood's top non-actor, Keanu Reeves. I wouldn't even call him a bad actor like Tom Cruise. It's as if Keanu doesn't attempt to act. This might have worked well in "The Matrix" and maybe "The Devil's Advocate", but in general he's the man to pick as a background character who isn't meant to be noticed. He should never, never, never be given the leading role. What spoke most in his favour in "47 Ronin" is that he wore a beard, ideal for hiding his lack of facial expressions.

Nevertheless, I walked into the cinema with the positive intention of enjoying the film. I had read reviews comparing it with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", one of my favourite films, so I thought I would give it a chance, even though I usually find it unsuitable to compare Chinese and Japanese films. Having said that, within the first 10 minutes I could see how the comparison is justified. This isn't a real Japanese film, far from it. The colours are far too vibrant, though not quite reaching the extremes of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". I know almost nothing about the director, Carl Rinsch, except that it's his first film after a career of making television commercials. Maybe he was deliberately aiming for a Chinese feel, or maybe he didn't know what a Japanese film should look like. It's impossible to judge a first-time director. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knew what he was doing.

"47 Ronin" is based on a true Japanese story of honour and redemption that took place between 1701 and 1703. The master of a group of samurai was disgraced after allegedly being driven mad by poison, so his followers took revenge after waiting a year. This is one of the most famous tales in Japanese history, and it has been adapted countless times for both professional and amateur theatre productions. The 47 ronin are remembered every year on December 14th. On this date a festival is held in their honour at the Sengaku temple in Tokyo where they are buried. This story has captivated the imagination of the Japanese people for over 300 years. It could be argued that the story sums up the Japanese concepts of honour and loyalty, everything that makes a person Japanese.

I personally disliked the way the story was fantasised. Supernatural elements were added, such as monsters and witchcraft. I would have preferred the story to remain realistic, as close to the real events of the 18th Century as possible. For me the best part of the film was the ending, after all the action and CGI effects had finished. This must be one of the most moving scenes ever shot in a film. If only the whole film could have reached this level of quality.

Graves of the 47 Ronin in Tokyo

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