Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes
Based loosely on a famous Japanese historical event, mixed with elements of Japanese legend like demons and magic, 47 Ronin is the tale of a group of exiled samurai bent on vengeance. Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) of Ako has built a prosperous and beautiful domain but during a visit from the Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) he is duped into attacking an unarmed guest in his palace, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). It is such a breach of honor that the Shogun gives Asano a choice: be hanged like a common criminal or commit seppuku(ritual suicide) to preserve the honor of his family. After taking his own life, Asano’s men are stripped of their titles and ranks by the Shogun and his lands and his daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki) are given to Lord Kira. Aided by a powerful witch (Rinko Kikuchi), Kira plans on marrying Mika and pillaging Ako’s wealth in an attempt to topple the Shogun and rule Japan himself.
The leader of Asano’s men (Hiroyuki Sanada) rallies his troops, who decide that even if it means their death, they must avenge their fallen master. Looking for an equalizer to Kira’s magic, the samurai must turn to an outsider with a mysterious past (Keanu Reeves). On the eve of Kira and Mika’s wedding, the 47 must launch a desperate final assault on Kira’s palace and exact justice or die trying.
While slightly clumsy and overwrought, 47 Ronin was an entertaining telling of a classic tale. I love the style and look of Feudal Japan, and this film showcases those elements beautifully. The palaces, gardens and kimonos are almost a character on their own. I also think the natural stoicism of the Japanese actors give this film the proper tone. The fact that this is a story about honor, loyalty and sacrifice also appeals to me.
While the historical pieces work well, the fantasy additions aren’t very effective. The dragons, demons and witchcraft all feel like they are out of place and aren’t woven into the story very seamlessly. The scene on the Dutch Islands was also weird and unnecessary. I would have preferred a more straight-forward historical epic, but 47 Ronin managed to give me my money’s worth. C+