Film: 47 Ronin
Cast: : Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi, Masayoshi Haneda, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Since Hollywood (and Bollywood) is dominated by men, I suppose it is only natural that men are the central characters in the productions that emerge from the world’s top two film industries. It takes all kinds (of men) to make the world. See Walter Mitty & Wolf of Wall Street, for example. Director Carl Rinsch helms a 17th century tale from Japan, a greatly revered true story which has slipped into the realms of legend and which the screenwriter has embellished with the occult and supernatural elements.
Honour, sacrifice, loyalty, courage, justice, an impossible love and a belief in reincarnation provide thematic fodder for this fantasy-adventure which revolves around 47 Ronin (independent samurai) who set out to avenge the unjust death of their master, Lord Asano (Min Tanaka).
Alive, the Master was quite fond of half-breed (half English, half Japanese) Kai (Keanu Reeves from the Matrix trilogy) who was rescued as a boy from the forest where he was raised by fierce demon worshippers of the Great Pacifistic Buddha. His beautiful daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki) has a deeper attachment which is reciprocated. But it is a love that can never be, given the yawning gap in their status in a despotic feudal society which would eventually adopt militaristic policies in the 1930s and during World War II to form part of the Fascist Axis.
When Mika’s father is falsely accused of attempting to kill a guest Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano, Battleship) who covets Asano’s realm and is helped by an evil witch (Rinko Kikuchi, Pacific Rim) the Shogun gives Asano a Hobson’s choice: execution or (an honourable) suicide. Like harakiri, this form of suicide is considered honourable and unsurprisingly, the old Lord chooses suicide. In keeping with the samurai concept of “bushido” (social obligation) the warrior force is disbanded and the samurai are decreed to be leaderless ronin.
Kai is sold into slavery in a remote outpost. Mika is given a year to mourn her father at the end of which, she will have to marry Lord Kira. But the ex-samurai chief Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) defies the Shogun and assembles 47 Ronin into a fighting force and frees Kai. Together they seek vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who killed their master and banished them.
Rinsch wields his directorial baton over several exciting action sequences in a beautifully photographed landscape.
The film is an expensively mounted 3D production, with meticulous attention devoted to costume and setting. There are battles aplenty saturated with exciting fights with swords and bows and arrows. And of course, hand to hand combat.
The characters are interesting but the standout is Kikuchi’s shape-shifting witch who slips easily from human form to that of a fox and a huge, scary dragon. Decapitations I looked at without flinching, but when the dragon loomed, I looked away.