"47 Ronin" Review: Craig's First Take

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A band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.
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What to expect from “47 Ronin”? From the reports we were getting it didn’t seem like a whole lot. The movie, a record of the disgraced Samurai who stood up against treachery in feudal Japan, has been delayed for over a year, at one point there was even speculation that director Carl Rinsch had been kicked off the project once the budget ballooned from 175 to 225 million. Others predicted the film would never come out. But here it is, not only a remarkably efficient samurai film (I was never bored with it) but also with a keen eye for the dramatics of the story.

The Ronin were Samurai banished from their master. Kai, an outcast child stood among the ranks of the samurai after being taken in by Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) and his daughter Miku (Kou Shibasaki), although he stands to never achieve the respect of the samurai because of his half-breed race. Keanu Reeves plays him as an adult. He, along with the rest of the samurai is banished when Asano is bewitched into commiting treason by Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), who has employed a sorceress (Rinko Kikuchi) to steal Asano’s land and Miku.

Reeves is actually called upon to do a limited amount of acting work, his character is hardly on screen during the first half of the film, but this is another role that allows him to walk into being a “savior” through charisma and physicality alone and it again serves him well. He’s consistently out-acted though by Hiroyuki Sanada, playing Oishi, Asano’s honorable second in command looking to avenge his master. Shibasaki and Reeves do ok with the forbidden romance between them while Kikuchi is fantastic as this mischievous, seductive snake woman.

Where Rinsch really brings the whole thing together though is in not letting the special effects (which include a few impressive beasts, make-up and dark magic) or the mythology (which is heavy on exposition) overwhelm a really good story about men who lived by a code of honor and fought to claim or reclaim their place of greatness no matter the cost. Ilan Eshkeri’s musical score adds great accompaniment to every tragic, soaring scene while the costumes and sets are gorgeous to look at. “47 Ronin” is a terrific, sword-fighting epic which surprised me in just how entertaining it winds up being.