The story of the Forty-seven Ronin is well known in Japan, and has been since the historical event occurred early in the 18th century. It’s not nearly as common knowledge on these shores, but that’s something that Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin adaptation looked to change. Keanu Reeves stars in this tale that reimagines the factual story of revenge, honor, and loyalty as one set within a world rich with the fantastical elements of Japanese folklore. In its theatrical release, 47 Ronin was a box office dud, never coming close to making its reported $175 million budget back. Perhaps it was simply a case of the wrong movie at the wrong time. Since the quality of the production is surprisingly high, 47 Ronin might find new life on home video. Hit the jump for my 47 Ronin Blu-ray review.
The story of 47 Ronin follows the popular legend quite closely in its core moments, with one major exception: Reeves’ character, Kai. Though the cast is comprised of a majority of veteran Japanese actors, the plot centers around Reeves, who plays a half-breed of questionable origin who is taken in by the resident feudal lord and befriended by the lord’s daughter. The bad news for Kai is that the rest of the villagers mistreat him, thinking him a demon. Even as a grown-up Kai aids the lord’s band of samurai with his particular set of skills, they don’t come to treat him as an equal until their own honor has been cast aside against their wishes.
The basic story from which all chushingura draw inspiration goes something like this: A feudal lord prepares official ceremonies for the arrival of the ruling shogun and his officials. At some point, the hosting lord draws his sword against the shogun’s protocol official and attempts to kill him. The shogun then orders the lord to commit seppuku – ritual suicide – in order to keep his honor, but then also claim’s the lord’s lands and disbands his samurai, making them masterless ronin. Forty-seven of them planned their revenge for two years before achieving it by killing the offending official and then, in the story’s most powerful and enduring display of honor and loyalty, turned themselves in and also committed seppuku as ordered.
47 Ronin stays true to this story and it does it quite well. The addition of fantasy elements to the story adds an interesting cultural wrinkle since the various creatures and magical abilities are drawn from Japanese folklore. It’s used to fill in the gaps of the story, and to justify an overblown budget that accommodates huge practical sets and costumes, alongside visual effects-heavy action sequences. So we’ve got an American adaptation of a Japanese legend, coupled with a Western lead, with a fantasy angle, and a swollen budget. Each of them risky on their own, positively deadly (financially speaking) when combined. There’s the occasional lucky strike that manages to overcome all the adversity stacked against it, but it was not to be for 47 Ronin. Now that it’s on Blu-ray, however, I’d say it’s certainly worth a rental. As you can see below, the Extras are of the run-of-the-mill variety.
- Deleted Scenes (4)
- Re-Forging the Legend (~7 minutes) – A behind-the-scenes featurette with Reeves, Rinsch, Sanada, producer Pamela Abdy, and costume designer Penny Rose offering commentary on the production.
- Keanu & Kai (~5 minutes) – Reeves, Rinsch and more exploring the role of Kai and his character arc in this behind-the-scenes featurette, with an extensive look at Reeve’s work ethic.
- Steel Fury: The Fights of 47 Ronin (~8 minutes) – A behind-the-scenes look at the fight choreography found throughout the film, including a look at the so-called Lovecraftian samurai.
- Myths, Magic & Monsters: The FX of 47 Ronin (~7 minutes) – The reason they based the famous Japanese samurai story on Japanese folklore – including a modified Kirin, an Oni, Tengu, witches and dragons – and how they achieved the look with visual effects.