47 Ronin

Despite a 14% on the tomatometer, 47 Ronin features excellent costume design

It’s movies like this, that made me want to start this blog.  47 Ronin, is a 2013 would be blockbuster that had the bad sense to release about a week after Desolation of Smaug in December.  I’m not saying you absolutely need to watch this movie, or even that it is a good film.  In this piece, I mean to make two points.  #1, making a movie is extremely hard, and anyone who has tried their hand at it can attest to this — and #2, While filled with lots of negative energy, there is merit worthy film-making to be salvaged from 47 Ronin.

For one thing, this movie stars Keanu Reeves who, when given the right environment, can enliven a film a great bit.  The thing about Reeves is that at this point in his career, he is more or less a stuntman with some acting under his belt.  His problem I think, is that he doesn’t seem to make distinction between good and bad films.  Reeves has been in John Wick, a very good film; as well as in Man of Tai Chi, a movie that was quite horrible.

His dedication to making an action sequence look and feel intense does more for the production than you might imagine.  He fights with a distinct energy, adhering to choreography, but throwing in an unscripted drive to his combat.  The movie does employ some CGI in the later fight scenes, and while this is a bump in the road, Reeves’ performance manages to make even those sequences enjoyable.

The main dilemma plaguing this film is that it represents an odd marriage between a sacred Japanese legend, and a fantastical adventure.  This strange combination is the movie’s biggest downfall.  When a witch with occult arachnian and lupine powers uses magic to manipulate a samurai lord into attacking another man, he is found out and stripped of his honor.  However, for his years of service, he is granted the chance to reclaim his dignity, by committing “seppuku”, or ritual suicide.  He does, and his disciples become “Ronin”, samurai with no master.  They seek to reclaim their master’s good name by avenging the evil Kira, who was indirectly responsible for his death.

They do, in a drawn out, but effective and entertaining action sequence.  Afterwards is where the movie begins to lose me.  The men are seen as guilty by the shogun, and sentenced to death or ritual suicide.  They obviously pick ritual suicide.  They were technically at fault, as they did in fact disobey orders not to avenge their leader.  But isn’t it just good common sense, that when a spider-witch gets involved, all bets are off?  The otherwise somber but momentous scene, in which 47 warriors run themselves through at once is sullied by one’s internal dialogue; “Couldn’t they just talk about it?”  Clearly there was no witch involved, in the real story.  However, the witch is integral to the film’s fantastical element.  Quite simply, 47 Ronin tries to have its cake, while eating it, and makes a crummy mess of things.

As I write this review, I am currently working on a film — a small 10-minute affair that while I’ve enjoyed, has been the hardest creative venture I’ve ever undertaken.  Realizing a vision as a series of images onto a screen is extremely difficult, and I’ve gained a lot of respect for anyone who can do it with even the slightest degree of cohesion.  Again, I’m not saying 47 Ronin is a must see.  It is very flawed, and by no means am I saying that every bad movie deserves a free pass because someone worked hard on it; But, I advise that you who view cinema, think about the movies you watch as I have thought about this one and open your eyes to what a film — especially a feature production — represents; hours upon hours of rehearsal, practice, and editing.  Even when it doesn’t pan out, the most pungent heap of cinematic garbage still possesses effort worthy of your respect and consideration.


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