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Blending fact with fantasy, ’47 Ronin’ still does a decent job

47 Ronin (2013 film)

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Based on one of the most re-told stories in Japanese and, arguably, Asian history, Carl Rinsch’s “47 Ronin” is the first Western film adaptation of the true account of the 47 masterless samurai vowing to avenge their wronged leader. Although it definitely takes some Hollywood liberties, the film follows the main plot of the real story.

Ako Samurai
Ako Samurai
Universal Pictures
Theatrical release poster
Universal Pictures

At the start of the 18th century, in feudal Japan, the daimyo of Ako is provoked to attack the official, Kira, while both are under the watch of the shogun. Having violated the law, Ako is condemned to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. His samurai retainers are then pronounced masterless samurai, ronin, and are left to wander the countryside, forbidden to seek revenge on Kira.

Well, seeking revenge may have been forbidden by the shogun, but the samurai code, bushido, demands it, so, led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada “The Wolverine”) the ronin plot the destruction of their hated enemy in secret.

Simple enough of a concept, but Hollywood decided to throw their own, rather unnecessary, ingredients into the already sufficiently sumptuous story stew. Most notably of these inclusions is Keanu Reeves—a classic Hollywood move of giving top billing to someone who doesn’t quite fit, in an attempt to lure people to the theaters.

Reeves plays Kai, a “half-breed” and therefore mistreated member of Ako’s court. Nevertheless, it is his knowledge and connections that end up aiding the ronin. Also tacked on is the forbidden love story between Kai and Ako’s daughter and the addition of Kira’s mystical sorceress accomplice. But hey, without magic, how else would we get to see Keanu Reeves fight a dragon, right?

Despite the ridiculous “Titanic” flavor the love story may give, “47 Ronin” blends a decent amount of action with several honest moments of humor and heartbreak. The film also picks up speed as it moves along, the pacing matching the import of the action—action that makes its crowning moment in the ronins’ infiltration of Kira’s compound.

Some of the acting does fall short of the mark, however (cough, Keanu, cough) and the script is far from prize-winning. Nevertheless, the film provides a feast for the eyes, using costume and color much in the way the late Akira Kurosawa did in his films like “Ran” and “Kagemusha.”

Despite the fantastical elements, “47 Ronin” does little to shame the memory of the men who really did avenge their lord, knowing their lives were forfeit in doing so. Seeing this film for that historical content alone is reason enough to see it.

Ammo Dump rating: 6 out of 10 mystical katanas

(Rated PG-13; 118 min.)

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