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Ronin If You Want To…

by Kevin J. Johnson

47 RONIN is the directorial debut of Carl Rinsch and stars Keanu Reeves as Kai, an outcast in a Japanese village who must help a band of dishonored samurai, now known as ronin, avenge the death of their master. The film also stars Hiroyuki Sanada as Oishi, the leader of the titular ronin, and Rinko Kikuchi (last seen in PACIFIC RIM) as Mizuki, an evil witch whose dark magic the band of ronin must fight against.

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The story takes place in a Westernized, fantasized version of feudal Japan, complete with monsters, demons, and magic spells. The film itself is gorgeous with lush, crisp photography (shot native in 3D) and elaborate production design. The money is onscreen and the filmmakers were clearly devoted to Japanese art and culture, at the very least visually. On Digital HD, the colors pop and the details shine through.

In fact, one could argue far too much attention was given to the details and not the core narrative engine that is the script. See, the tale of the 47 Ronin is its own vaunted sub genre in Japanese literature, known as Chūshingura, and has been widely adapted in various forms and retellings. Films, opera, manga, you name it. So this is just another spin. Except this was a calculated maneuver for worldwide box office, which is fine as long as the key audience is clear.

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Which it isn’t. 47 RONIN features an international cast speaking entirely in English instead of their own native tongues, and a script that streamlines the plot to the point of discarding the intricacies of samurai culture. Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose, but whether 47 RONIN was English language or in Japanese, it doesn’t matter if the film can’t decide how true to the story it wants to be.

It is a sumptuous film done in by its own concessions to blockbuster groupthink and trying to emulate mega-franchises like LORD OF THE RINGS or PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN instead of being a historical/cultural tribute. It’s a childishly simple plot with the legendary gravitas of Hiroyuki Sanada (an odd mix, no doubt), culminating in a sanitized ritual of PG-13 seppuku, which is as ridiculous as it sounds.

The film does at least look amazing, and more than serves as a showcase for your home entertainment rig, perhaps while hosting a dinner party. A mute button might come in handy, though.

{Own-it, Redbox it, Wait For Cable}

47 RONIN is available now on Digital HD, and will be available April 1st, 2014 on Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet and Blu-ray 3D.

Follow Kevin on twitter where he dispels his Degrasse Tyson like knowledge of film and television.