– for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements.
Director: Carl Rinsch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2013
Blu-Ray Release Date: April 1, 2014 (Amazon.com)
Based on an epic story, this extraordinary tale of inspiring courage has its origins in the early 18th century. After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and reclaim their honor. Transformed into a thrilling, visually stunning 3D film by director Carl Rinsch, 47 Ronin tells the story of a small group of warriors, or ronin, on a quest to avenge the death of their master. Battling across a savage world of mythical beasts, shape-shifting witches and wondrous terrors, the ronin must seek help from kai (Reeves), an enslaved half-breed they once rejected – in their ultimate fight for redemption.
(from Think Jam)
47 Ronin is a fantasy action film that takes a legendary story from Japanese culture and attempts to retell it a bigger way than ever before. It’s an ambitious film that utilizes grand CG effects and backdrops, along with elaborate sets, to create a tangible authenticity to the film’s time period.
But the movie tends to struggle with tone and pacing a bit, lagging at times when trying to lay the groundwork for the story that will give the ronin their purpose. Ronin are more or less disgraced samurai, and in this story, 47 of them set out to avenge the death of their master who was framed and condemned to death by a manipulative lord named Kira. Still, the pacing problems are largely forgivable by the time we cross the midway point of the movie and the story has morphed into something of a journey film. And that is 47 Ronin‘s strong point. While it’s possible for the story to have been structured to move along a little more smoothly, it actually sets up the rest of the movie pretty adequately.
Keanu Reeves stars as a mysterious outsider named Kai who is taken in but not accepted by the Japanese people who find him. He’s treated as almost an enemy or a shunned member of their own group that they reluctantly put up with. It isn’t until he and the samurai are banished that they start to accept him. The rejection and bullying he has to endure for much of the movie is hard to watch, but it makes his inevitable acceptance much more rewarding for the audience.
Keanu is supported by a really strong cast of international actors who make the film better than it is. Reliable Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine, Rush Hour 3) plays Oishi, while Pacific Rim‘s Rinko Kikuchi plays the creepy, evil Witch. Tadanobu Asano, who is part of Thor’s posse in the Marvel films, plays the evil Lord Kira, as well as a host of other recognizable faces.
The action scenes are also pretty engaging. For a movie of this scale and scope, it’s amazing just how much detail and care went into pulling it all together. The only effects that don’t always work are the CG creatures and monsters, but it still fares better than other effects-heavy films, and the CG landscapes are incredibly convincing.
47 Ronin merges fantastical things from Japanese lore with the ronin legend to give it a sort of Forbidden Kingdom meets Never Ending Story meets The Last Samurai mash-up. From the large, otherworldly Kirin beast near the film’s start, on down to the freakish things that the Witch can do and turn into, there’s a more epic, fantasy feel to this movie than one might expect the tale to have. It erases all semblance of historical truth to the tale, but it does create something that fans of movies like The Lord of the Rings can enjoy. I do tend to enjoy a good genre mash-up, but the fact that 47 Ronin feels like a monster movie married with The Last Samurai will certainly be something that a lot of viewers will have a hard time with.
The biggest red flag content-wise for most people will be the action violence, but the witchcraft element due to the Witch character may be spiritually unsettling to some (including this reviewer). The only real saving grace for the representation of witchcraft here is that it’s so over-the-top and imaginative, that it seldom feels menacingly real. At times, she appears as a fox, at other times, she moves about like a snake, and in another instance, a spider — with hair that acts as spider legs. It’s creepy stuff and is certainly frightening for some viewers. Also, there’s a big, scar-covered ogre that fights Kai in one scene, while the Witch fights a ronin as a serpent/dragon kind of creature. Kai also visits these reptilian-faced men who have self-mutilated their heads a bit and move about in a scary manner as they make violent visions appear to another character that end up not being real. And in arguably the most disturbing sequence in the movie, we see the Witch spawn a spider during a spell and later drop it onto the face of a sleeping character, where it burrows into his mouth. Yeah, it’s pretty disgusting.
The violence is typically not bloody or very gory, but there’s lots of slashing and stabbing, with some quick shots of characters being run-through with swords. In one scene, as Kai fights the ogre, the camera is set back from the action, from the perspective of an onlooker, as Kai beheads the monster. We then briefly see the head on the ground. Another scene finds a character beheading another character and soon holding up the severed head for many people to see. It’s not especially real looking, but it’ll be disturbing for some. Finally, there’s a theme of disgraced warriors having to kill themselves by stabbing themselves in the abdomens with daggers, and we briefly see a couple examples of this.
In the end, 47 Ronin is a surprisingly entertaining and elaborate fantasy adventure film that may falter a bit when it comes to pacing, but finishes on a strong note. Perhaps with a different director, 47 Ronin would have translated better to wider audiences, but given that this is Carl Rinsch’s first major movie directorial project, it’s still an impressive result. If you enjoy any of the cast and Japanese folklore–with a favor on the side of the fantastical–47 Ronin won’t disappoint.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/1/14)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
You can pick up 47 Ronin in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, on DVD, in a Blu-Ray 3D combo pack, or through the usual digital vendors. The picture in HD is colorful and truly fantastic. I kept marveling at how great it looked while watching it — something I can’t say for every HD release. Including the 2D feature film on the blu-ray disc are the following extras:
Deleted Scenes (7:42) – There are four deleted scenes. The first, “Mika regrets her love for Kai” has the two meeting in secret where she laments her love for him. “Mika tries to poison Kira” may be the longest one here and it shows Mika poisoning Kira’s tea in hopes he’ll drink it. “Oishi attempts to buy Kai” is an extended version of the one in the film, but instead of Oishi finding Kai on his own, he actually does buy back Kai and is then escorted to him. Finally, “Isogai is entranced by witch” is a throwaway scene where the witch seems to seduce a miscellaneous character with her magic.
Re-Forging The Legend (6:44) delves into the story of the ronin and reveals how 47 Ronin is based on a real story but they wanted to retell it as fantasy. Here they talk about building the tremendous sets from scratch — whether real or in CG, and it all looks really amazing. It ends with a look at the act of seppuku as depicted in the movie.
Keanu & Kai (4:00) is dedicated to the casting of Keanu Reeves as Kai and his deep involvement in the making of the movie. It’s all about his acting, fighting and collaboration.
Steel Fury: The Fights of 47 Ronin (5:54) focuses on the stunts and fighting styles in the film. The stunt coordinater talks about prepping the characters and training. This is a great behind the scenes featurette that focuses on the film’s big fights and we see some footage of the actors’ training.
Myths, Magic and Monsters: The FX of 47 Ronin (7:35) – The filmmakers decided to retell the legend while making it a fantasy story and they delve a little bit into the Japanese folklore that the film pays tribute to. They focus on each monster and talk about how they fit into the legend.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/1/14)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We hear that Lord Asano has concubines; Lord Kira compliments Lord Asano on his beautiful concubine and Lord Asano corrects him that it is his daughter; Under the spell of witchcraft, Lord Asano thinks he sees Lord Kira forcing himself on Mika (both are clothed but she’s screaming for help). We find out that he’s only hallucinating and it’s not actually happening; We see a shirtless fat man bathing; The witch seductively straddles Mika in bed and taunts her with lies about people she cares about having been killed. She drags a dagger across the blankets on top of Mika.
Blood/Gore: We see some scars on a young Kai’s head; A man has bloody cut on his cheek; Kai has the Kirin beast’s black blood on his hands; We see an abrasion on Kai’s back that Mika tends to; Kai has a small cut on his cheek; Kai has bruises on his back from being beaten; Kai fights an ogre who has a mace and cuts his back with his sword (creating a gash) and then we see him cut its head off. The beheading is seen from a distance but we see the head on the floor; We see lizard-faced men with self-mutilation scarring on their heads (like having cut off their own ears and such); The ronin touch their blades with their thumbs and stamp a thumb print of blood on a document they sign; We see a man holding up a decapitated head for a crowd to see; We see the decapitated head in a sack as the killer walks with it.
Violence: We see some scars on a young Kai’s head; Young Oishi threatens to kill Kai with a sword, but Kai then holds the sword back on him; A Kirin beast charges soldiers on horseback and knocks a bunch of them over. Kai then grabs a sword and stabs it in the stomach and it continues to run before falling over dead; Oishi cuts off an antler from the beast; We see a man on the ground with white eyes that Kai suspects is witchcraft; We see two samurai fight in a tournament; Kai is punished by being beaten with sticks; During a spell, Kira is pricked and a spider comes out (or something like that). The Witch delivers it to Lord Asano while he’s sleeping and it pushes itself into his mouth. He’s then under a spell where he thinks his daughter is being raped by Kira (but he’s not) and nearly kills him before he is stopped; Asano stabs himself (or tries to and cannot) and is beheaded; Kai is roughed up and pulled away by rope. Oishi is thrown into a pit and hoisted out by rope a year later and then kicked; Kai fights an ogre who has a mace and cuts his back with his sword and then we see him cut its head off; Kai and Oishi fight with swords and Oishi stabs a bystander as they escape. They then run away and are pursued with gunfire and sword fighting. They set a gate on fire to get away; Kira stick-fights two men brutally and then stomps on one of their heads (not seen) after they have fallen; Kai stabs and slashes Kira’s soldiers and kills one with an arrow; Lizard-faced men (some of whom have major scarring on their heads) fight ronin and slash them and run them through with swords and one by arrow. It turns out not to be real; Kai holds his sword to a man’s neck; The witch sets a man on fire and many others are killed by arrows. Another is killed by the sword; We see a ronin who is injured and on his deathbed suddenly die; The witch drags a knife over Mika’s blankets while she’s lying in bed and stabs the bed next to her head, encouraging her to kill herself with that knife; The ronin touch their blades with their thumbs and stamp a thumb print of blood on a document they sign; A ronin kills a guy via an arrow. Another chokes a guard. More guards die by arrows or are stabbed. A large battle erupts between Kira’s men and the ronin, with many dying; A big explosion in a wall blows apart a big samurai in armor (not sure if he was a real man or something else?); SPOILERS (from here to the end)… The witch turns into a dragon-like snake and fights Kai; Oishi and Kira fight with swords and martial arts fighting; A man is stabbed and then sliced down by a sword. We then see a man holding up that victim’s decapitated head for a crowd to see; We see the decapitated head in a sack as the killer walks with it; A large group of soldiers commit a mass suicide to regain their honor. We see them hold a knife to their abdomens and stab themselves out of view of the camera.