Film review: 47 Ronin (12A, 119min)

Keanu has a kendo attitude

Friday, 27th December 2013, 2:00 pm
47 Ronin
47 Ronin

East meets west with a flurry of digital trickery in 47 Ronin, an ill-conceived martial arts epic inspired by the real-life tale of a group of samurai, who doled out justice in 18th-century Japan to avenge their master.

While the original story is tightly woven into Japanese culture, and has been passed down through the generations, Carl Rinsch’s lavish spectacle will quickly be forgotten.

The film’s reported $170m budget has been invested in gorgeous production design and endless costumes. Beneath all of the lustrous packaging though, 47 Ronin is little more than a hoary B-movie.

Screenwriters Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini turn to sorcery to spice up their emotionally starved narrative, and call upon the warlocks of the special effects department to conjure a horned monster, a mythical dragon and a shape-shifting witch out of the ether.

The desecration of revered source material is complete by casting Keanu Reeves as the vacuous hero, and gifting lifeless, stilted English dialogue to some of Japan’s best loved actors.

Reeves plays outcast Kai, who is taken in by Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) despite other subjects labelling him a demon. Kai grows up a sensitive soul and catches the eye of Asano’s daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki), but he realises their romance is doomed.

“I will always love you, but you have your place and I have mine,” he laments.

Mika’s heartache turns to anguish when scheming Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) uses a high-profile visit from Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) to besmirch Lord Asano’s reputation.

The Shogun orders Asano to commit seppuku – ritual suicide by disembowelment – to avoid bringing shame upon his house, then permits Mika one year to mourn before she must marry Kira and thereby unite the two kingdoms.

Kuranosuke Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Asano’s samurai guards are now masterless ‘ronin’ and Kira banishes them to the wilderness.

These brave warriors vow revenge but, to get close to their enemy, they must place their trust in Kai before overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles including Lord Kira’s most deadly ally, a wicked sorceress called Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi).

47 Ronin could be Slash Of The Titans, considering how much emphasis director Rinsch places on fantastical elements and action-packed skirmishes between swordsmen and hulking foes.

Reeves has never been the most expressive actor, and here he is practically zombified, struggling to convince us of his forbidden desire for Mika.

Kikuchi loosely embraces her role as the pantomime villainess, complete with different coloured eyes, but doesn’t once feel like a lethal threat to Oishi and his brethren.

Gobble gobble gobbledegook – behold the post-Christmas turkey.

Action/Romance. Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Min Tanaka. Director: Carl Rinsch.