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47 Ronin - non spoilery thoughts

So where to start with this... I think this is going to be separated into 3 posts. One dedicated to 47 Ronin in a fairly non-spoilery way, another dedicated to 47 Ronin in a very detailed spoiler-y way and one dedicated to Jin in 47 Ronin in a fairly spoilery way. Please bear with me!

As you probably know, the movie 47 Ronin is inspired by actual historical events (see wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forty-seven_Ronin) The word inspired is a good one to keep in mind, this movie includes magic, demons, dragons and other fantastical creatures, as well as good old fashioned changes to suit the mood of the movie's creators. One of the most obvious of these changes is the introduction of the Kai character, played by Keanu Reeves.

47 Ronin has been marketed as a Keanu Reeves vehicle, presumably because his stature as a Hollywood star ensured the movie was funded, and to give a wider audience a character to identify with, an Everyman as it were. Along with Kai, there are major changes to the Lord Asano character, to Lord Kira's motivation, and even to the way the Ronin themselves found their revenge. Most of these changes have been made to support choices made in the structuring of the film, as you will see.

Non spoiler post – the short version, in bullet points.

  • 3D version. There are a few set pieces that work very well in the 3D version, however there are also long stretches of the film that work without it. While the 3D does enhance those set pieces, I imagine the 2D version is still effective.

  • English version. The delivery of the English dialogue is very well done, the Japanese cast have all done an outstanding job on making sure their delivery works in an appropriate way for their character. I was really impressed with this aspect of the film. The cast obviously rehearsed extensively and care had been taken to make sure that dialogue was clear and understandable, and more than that it was integrated into the characterisation. No robotic like recitation of lines. Did I mention I was impressed? (I hope to see the Japanese dub soon – will be interesting to see any differences).

  • Acting was really strong by the Japanese cast. Although Keanu has been billed as the star of this movie, I would say the real heart of it is the story between Kira and Oishi (the leader of Asano's samurai who become ronin on his death). Keanu has a plot line that revolves around his place in the world of Ako, and his love for Lady Mika. Both of those are sweet and somewhat engaging but they have been tied to the larger plot line of Akira's jealousy and the Ako ronin seeking vengeance. Keanu is Keanu, he has his acting style, and it mainly works here as it suits his character.

  • The plot line did incorporate many of the traditional 47 Ronin elements, and added additional ones such as the Kai character, the Lady Mika character, the supernatural elements. The added romance works fairly well, as it's not overly focussed on and gives Kai a demonstrable reason to stay and help.

  • Visual effects. The reason for the 3D really. A number of battle and set pieces designed to show off the visual effects, the magic, the fighting. It was impressive, but again I think it will work fairly well in 2D. If you enjoy 3D, definitely see that version.

  • Costumes. Great colour palette, and very traditional feudal Japan look with enough of a twist to keep in place a reminder that this is a fantastical world. The samurai armour is great, I want all of Lady Mika's kimonos and the costumes really help with the visual shorthand of status.

  • Music works very well, and used some traditional Japanese instruments, but is more in the style of James Horner. Lots of violins and lush orchestrations, top of my head I would say the feel was close to Pirates of the Caribbean with themes and orchestral underscoring.

  • Jin has a minor role. He has a small number of lines, but is present in a number of key scenes and has a number of close up reaction shots. I am so thankful that Carl Rinsch cast Jin in this movie and gave him a hair style that pulled all his hair off his face as he looks great in this movie #shallowmoment. His acting is quite good, it's organic and he does a nice job of showing a young man who wants the approval of his father and to support him and be a worthy samurai heir. His dedication to his family is absolute and sweet and quite moving. He has a number of lines (he worked hard to take the edge of SoCal drawl out of them so he sounds consistent with the rest of the cast) and he spends a lot of time watching and being present in the scene, which is consistent with his status as a young man in that time who is not a samurai and is the son of the leader.

  • How does it look? It looks great. Lots of scene setting landscapes, nice sets with attention to detail, nice use of light and shade, the transitions are good, the pace is fairly consistent... nothing feels too rushed, and nothing drags too much but I did feel that some things could have been examined in more depth.

  • So it wasn't terrible? No. It really wasn't. The odds of this movie working were pretty much stacked against it. The extensive reshoots and the delay in release suggest a troubled production, but the finished product has a consistent look and tone, and visual effects that are well integrated. The choice of using a Japanese cast, including a number of actors who are not fluent in English was brave, and the right decision because they did a great job – to the point that their effort was not noticeable as the movie unfolded. The story material itself was treated respectfully and seriously, and the new elements were obviously considered carefully as they were integrated into the film.

  • Is it perfect? No. Not by a long shot. It will not win any Academy Awards, and there are a number of plot related things that I thought needed to be more fully developed, or maybe changed. Some of that will delve into spoiler territory so...it's hard to be explicit here. I will say that I know the original screening in LA was around 3 hours, and the final cut of the movie is 2 hours. I hope that some/most of that footage ends up in a Director's cut, or as deleted scenes on a DVD release, because it may answer some of my criticisms that basically revolve around “this needed more X” or “I wanted to see Y talk through why this was happening” etc. One thing that I definitely wanted more of was Kai and Chikara, but selfish as that is, I can see why that would have been a candidate for cutting to get to a shorter runtime.

  • Is it enjoyable. Yes. Worth seeing on the big screen? Yes. I found it to be engaging, well produced and enjoyable. Would I recommend other people see it? Yes. Do I hope it's a success? Yes, I do!

The next post will be a very long, very spoiler heavy summary of the movie. As in scene by scene spoiler.  Consider this fair warning!


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2013 09:56 am (UTC)
Thanks for the review! I am glad to hear I won't regret spending money to see it when it comes out here. Have you heard if the version Japan got will be the same cut the US will get? I know some countries have been getting different cuts of movies lately.
Dec. 8th, 2013 10:28 am (UTC)

"I am so thankful that @CarlRinsch cast @Jin_Akanishi in this movie and gave him a hair style that pulled all his hair off his face as he looks great in this movie"

Thanks for the review Belle.
Dec. 8th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the review. I'm more excited to watch it now =D
Dec. 8th, 2013 07:29 pm (UTC)
I only watched the trailer, and to be honest the trailer left me a bit perplexed. Anyway, I really liked a lot some visuals (like, Rinko Kikuchi's character turning into a dragon in the trailer). I'm not overly curious, but I could go watch it if we screen it (which I doubt, to be honest). I'm curious to see Rinko Kikuchi though ;_;
Dec. 9th, 2013 04:09 pm (UTC)

thank you for sharing your thoughts on this movie...looking forward to it on Dec 25
Dec. 10th, 2013 05:24 am (UTC)
lovely review, looking forward to the more detailed one with spoilers. thanks.
Dec. 10th, 2013 08:15 am (UTC)
Sounds good! I'm not going to read the spoilers so only commenting here just now.

Jin! HAIR! *___*
Jan. 26th, 2015 04:34 am (UTC)
The graphics of movie definitely takes my breathe away, but just not the plot. Oh well.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )