It probably sounded good on paper or even somewhere in Budapest, but this Hollywood blockbuster version of the Japanese vendetta is a lot of great CGI in search of a story. While you might argue that "47 Ronin" is a story, I'd argue that it is at least two too many and that doesn't include the white-man-saves-the-Asians angle.
Very little of the conflict of human emotions (aijō) and duty (giri) remains in this fusty fusion of East Asian and European traditions. The script (credited to Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini and Walter Hamada) gives us witches from Western traditions who turn into foxes (Japanese tradition) with a dragon that is the Wetern tradition by way of the Western notion of the dragon lady. The costumes, hair and makeup mix Chinese and Japanese traditions with a bit of modernism.
The fast expanses suggested by the CGI and the sets are more continental China than the cramped spaces of Japan and why do the bad guys choose to live where it is dark, dank and snowing when the capitol is sunny?
In this case, the script writers have explained Keanu Reeves by including a new character, Kai, who is the illegitimate son of a British sailor and a Japanese peasant. He has been educated by the supernatural creatures, the Tengu. He leaves the Tengu to live with Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) as a boy. He grows up with Lord Asano's only child, Mika (Kou Shibasaki) and they fall in love. Yet life as a samurai isn't easy, even during times of peace.
The shogun's retinue includes the evil Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) who has a concubine, Mizuki (Rinko Kinkuchi), who is really a witch and can transform into a white fox. Lord Kira and Mizuki plot to disgrace Lord Kira who is then forced to commit ritual suicide. Worse, the shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) orders Mika to marry Lord Kira.
With the death of Lord Asano, his samurai become masterless, but they are determined to avenge their master's death. Even though they are well-educated and Japanese, they need the help of Kai to get swords, defeat the witch and kill Lord Kira.
The movie was filmed in Scotland (Isle of Skye), Budapest (Hungary), London and even, lastly, in Japan. What's amazing is that so many talented women directors can't get the funds to back worthy projects, but
We have the story of Kai and his childhood sweetheart, Mika. We have the story of Kai, whose peasant family are oddly absent, and his pseudo-father, the head Tengu. We have Kai as a fighting gladiator slave, facing the savage denizons of Dejima, a colony of the brawling Dutch. We have Kai facing the prejudice (as a half-breed) of the samurai who don't seem concerned about his peasant status. We have poor Mika who doesn't have a single lady-in-waiting or other female attendants to prevent her from being alone with Kai, Lord Kira or the deadly Mizuki. We have a witch who has wandered from the set of some Western fantasy and come by Japan by way of China. We have witches becoming dragon ladies in a startling combination of two prejudices--against dragons and strong-willed East Asian woman. We have a Japan with broad vast plains like China or Hungary and yet an insular society. We have hairstyles and make up for the principals that seem to be inspired by Chinese period dramas and hairstyles and make up for the background people that seem to be inspired by some of the denizens of Whoville from Dr. Seuss's "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
In all, this would work best as a nightmare resulting from a samurai flick marathon followed by some Asian horror movies, too much sake, bad Chinese food and a bit of yellow fever. I'm surprised that despite the inclusion of a fire-breathing dragon and a many-eyed beasty, there wasn't room for St. George, werewolves or vampires. Is the Twilight rage over?
The real story, one that hasn't been told, is how Carl Rinsch , a man who has only directed shorts was given control of this $225 million dollar movie.
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