Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie Review -- 47 Ronin

Today I'm reviewing the new Keanu Reeves movie 47 Ronin, based on the old Japanese story.

The story takes place in feudal Japan, a land of myth and monsters. Kai (Reeves) is a mysterious foreigner who was taken in by the Asano clan as a boy. Viewed with fear and disdain because of his strange origins, he is a second-class citizen within the clan. Only the lovely Mika (Kou Shibasaki) seems to take a shine to him.

One day the Asanos play host to the shogun Tokugawa (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and their rival Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). A bit of treachery on the part of Kira and his witch (Rinko Kikuchi) forces Kai to fill in for the Asano's representative in a sparring match. Unfortunately, only samurai are allowed in the match, and when Kai's good-natured deception is revealed, he is severely punished. The betrayal doesn't end there, though. The witch tricks Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) into attacking Kira. This leads to Asano's death and his land falling into the hands of Kira. His second-in-command Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is imprisoned and Kai is sold into slavery.

One year later, Oishi is released and immediately hatches a plan to avenge his former lord and save Mika from her impending marriage to Kira. This means breaking Kai out of captivity and reuniting with his scattered men (who are now masterless ronin). This is only the beginning, however. In order for their mission to succeed, they must face the mysterious inhuman Tengu, the witch's magic, and Kira's army. Will they be able to overcome these odds and bring the bad guys to justice?

I quite enjoyed this movie. A large part of said enjoyment comes from the slick production values, particularly the costume designs. There's a wide assortment of costumes in this film, and it really imparts the wealth and beauty of Japan (even if wasn't filmed there). The characters are even played by real Japanese actors, unlike some movies. I also appreciate the amount of research that went into this film. The writers really know their Japanese mythology and theater.

The acting itself is good, if not exactly stellar. Keanu Reeves brings a stoic edge to his character, and Rinko Kikuchi delivers a suitably sinister vibe to her role. There aren't really any standout performances to speak of.

However, I do have a few complaints. Namely, the villains themselves are pretty generic. I was expecting some sort of diabolical endgame from the witch, but her motivation remains pretty shallow and murky throughout. Whatever she was planning, I'm still in the dark about it.

Fortunately, the movie has some cool action to offset that. I can safely say I was kept entertained until the end credits. Also, it is worth mentioning the story does not have a traditional Hollywood ending. You might not like what happens to our heroes.

All in all, I really like this movie, and I encourage everyone to go see it.

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