MRR Review: "47 Ronin"

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Rating: Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements)Length: 119 minutesRelease Date: December 25, 2013Directed by: Carl RinschGenre: Action, Adventure, and FantasyKeanu Reeves makes a fiery return in the action-adventure-fantasy movie "47 Ronin." Boasting a high-caliber cast and an astronomical $175-million budget, Carl Rinsch's "47 Ronin" is an epic take on a classic, traditional Japanese tale. It's a unique combination of fantasy and history based loosely on an actual event. The action-packed movie features various mythical creatures, including groups of samurai, mystical monks, flying dragons, and brawling giants. Most viewers will surely find this dazzling film quite entertaining.The movie is Rinsch's first feature film, and yet he deftly manages most of the sequences involving CGI beasts and complex fight choreography. He builds tension and plays it off with fluid fight scenes that show palpable physical blows and attacks.Set in the eighteenth century, "47 Ronin" follows the journey of the titular band of disgraced samurai who have lost their rank after their master Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) is slain and dishonored by treacherous warlord Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). The group of ronin is led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), and they seek revenge for their master. They also want to save his daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki), from having to marry the vicious noble. Outnumbered by their enemies, the forty-seven ronin must ask for help from half-breed Kai (Keanu Reeves) to battle mystic beasts and witchcraft.This intriguing premise guarantees an enjoyable ride, especially for those who have a penchant for Asian history and magic. Rinsch deftly adds a dose of supernatural existence and intersperses it with historical events to produce a powerful movie that easily captures attention. The Japanese legend's compelling narrative is conveyed splendidly with a luxurious and visually appealing cinematography that explores the old Japanese world. Although it may appear that magic isn't exactly well suited for the film, "47 Ronin" carefully treads through the historical context and creatively portrays the nature of the monsters. Hossein Amini and Chris Morgan's screenplay ensures a clear focus on the samurai's quest to avenge their dishonored master, with fantasy elements enhancing the overall story. There's a strong emotional resonance with most of the characters, making this movie more pleasurable to watch. For the most part, the movie stays true to its source material, particularly the ending.The soundtrack is also delightful, even if it doesn't exude a Japanese feel. The CGI is stunning, especially for the shape-shifting witch's transformations. Having an astounding budget, it comes as no surprise that the costumes are spectacular. Vivid colors, lush designs, and majestic landscapes can be seen throughout the film. Visually, the movie is downright dazzling, and there are notable breathtaking moments. Viewers will be treated to a wonderful realm of fantasy and history in the Edo era.Reeve's performance as Kai is balanced and well done. As a half-Japanese breed, his role is crucial because he has to portray an aptly placed character amid a largely Japanese cast. He delivers a believable performance as he naturally demonstrates Japanese mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that are important for his role in the story. Many critics point out how his half-Japanese nature appears when contrasted with the majority of the cast in the movie, but it's actually an essential part of the plot because without it, Kai wouldn't have been ostracized in the first place, and the ronin would have no need for him. His character looks noticeably different from the rest of the ronin because he is labeled as a suspicious outcast. As the story unfolds, the audience gets to know how he learned to fight and why he was running in the forest.The Japanese actors are excellent. The predominantly Japanese cast deserves much credit for the action sequences. Known for his action movies in the past, Reeves still shows fantastic physique and commendable skill. His delivery of action scenes is completely believable. The lovely Kou Shibasaki breathes life into the movie as Kai's love interest. Sanada is not to be forgotten, with his subtle yet powerful portrayal of an honorable man showing deep remorse. Of course, one of the best performances in the movie is that of scene-stealing Rinko Kikuchi, who apparently enjoyed her role as the shape-shifting witch. She's perfect for her alluring character's slyness, cruelty, and seductiveness. Her character best exemplifies the film's unique visual sense.An entirely unique take on the 300-year-old Japanese legend, "47 Ronin" beautifully merges history and mythology. The brilliant cast, artistic direction, striking cinematography, and powerful material make this film a fascinating movie experience.Rating: 3.5 out of 5