I know... oh fuck it.

I know… oh fuck it.

My brother and I have an awful habit of watching absolutely horrid movies in the theater when we get together.  And so it was last night that we found ourselves in a mostly empty auditorium with Real 3D glasses strapped to our faces in anticipation of, sigh, 47 Ronin.

For the record, I am not entirely opposed to Keanu Reeves.  I absolutely loved Man of Tai Chi which he directed and starred in.  And I wouldn’t mind him as Spike Spiegel in the live action Cowboy Beebop. But I can’t figure out why he’s in this stupid thing.

This thing is pretty rad.

This thing is pretty rad.

I also can’t figure out why the studio sunk so much money into this thing.  47 Ronin cost $200 million.  Why? Where did the fucking money go? Certainly not to Keanu’s salary.  As far as Hollywood stars go, he’s the least likely to demand a stupid large pay day.  Certainly not the writers.  I don’t think they actually know a thing about the actual legend. They certainly didn’t spend money on historians or researchers or anything historical at all.  I suppose the creature design was pretty cool.  There were four creature scenes that a bunch of CG houses probably spent a lot of work on.  The virtual locations and set extensions were pretty impressive.  And the costumes were absolutely exquisit.  Buuuuuuuut that still doesn’t account for such a high price tag for such a dull ass movie.

47 Booooooooooring

The chief sin of this movie is not its vast list of historical inaccuracies.  Its fatal flaw is that it’s a total bore.  The few action scene are spaced entirely too far apart so that you almost forget you’re watching a movie about swords.  Everyone speaks ever line of dialog like it’s the. Most. Important. Thing. They. Have. Ever. Said. In. Their. Entire. Lives.  Which robs the dialog of the entire film of any import or weight.

There’s a lot of extraneous stuff in here.  The romance between Keanu and Lord Asano’s daughter lacks any real chemistry which makes it entirely difficult to connect with.  Many of the fantasy elements take away from the main plot.  Sadly, those are also the most interesting bits of the film which makes me think that maybe they needed to go even further with the fantasy stuff.

The saddest victim of waste in this movie is Rick Genest.  You may remember him from the trailers as the tattooed man with guns.

This scene isn't in the movie I watched.

This scene isn’t in the movie I watched.

There are entire posters of him in much of the 47 Ronin publicity campaign.  He’s in like one scene which doesn’t include any of the action shots from the trailer.  What the fuck?  There’s so much wasted film in this thing, you might as well extend his scenes.  I don’t know why his stuff was left on the cutting room floor, but it’s a damn shame.  Might have made those scenes in the Dutch port somewhat interesting.

Also, there needed to be more of Lord Kira’s giant warrior.

This guy is totally badass and underused.

This guy is totally badass and underused.

The Great White Token

I complain a lot when minority characters are used as tokens.  If there is a single Asian character in a majority white cast, their Asianess is their justification for inclusion in the film.  Either they’re a martial artists or some tech wizard or some former Yakuza.  It kind of surprised me to see this, but in this instance, Keanus is the token.  His whiteness is the entire reason he’s there.

I really love Tengu man's design.

Tengu man is tired of your shit.

You see, the ronin can’t defeat Kira on their own.  Kira has the witch, Mizuki played by Rinko Kikuchi, who can poison men and defeat entire armies.  The 47 need someone on their side who can fight the demons.  Which is where Keanu comes in.  Since he’s half white and an outcast, everyone calls him a demon or a half breed.  As it turns out, he actually is a sort of demon.  He was taken in by the tengu of the forest when his mother abandoned him because he was a horrid half breed.  They taught him their demon ways so now he can do things no normal human can.

The really sad part, though, is that if you cut his scenes out of this thing, you’d still have a pretty solid movie.  Even though the movie makes every effort to convince you that the 47 need Keanu’s tengu powers to defeat Kira, his character is completely extraneous.  The 47 would have succeeded on their own without Keanu’s help.  Sure, it would have been a little more difficult to fight off the dragon lady, but I think they would have eventually done it.

More Creatures! More Dragons! More ANYTHING INTERESTING!

I don’t believe I’m saying this because it offended me so that they’re using the title of the actual legend, but I kind of wish they pushed the fantasy angle way more than they did.  By making it so subtle, Keanu’s character never felt fully integrated into the narrative of the damn thing.  More demon fights would have also helped to keep my interest.

Mako Mori as a literal dragon lady is actually fucking rad.

Mako Mori as a literal dragon lady is actually fucking rad.

As long and as boring as it is, we surprisingly don’t get a lot of character development from anyone.  We see very little growth from our heroes which makes it difficult to get emotionally attached to any of them.  The romance angle feels forced and you can only get so far with a revenge story.  Lots of things going on but none of it very focused.

If you want to see a movie with samurai doing samurai things, there’s an entire Akira Kurosawa library of films to go through.  He did way more with way less.  Universal should feel embarrassed for dumping so much money into this thing.  Ran is waaaaay longer than 47 Ronin but hardly feels boring even with the camera locked down on that shot of Hidetora Ichimonji slowly walking out of a burning castle.  If you’re looking for a fantasy movie with lots of creatures and dragons, well shit, there’s a Hobbit waiting for you.  If you’re looking for both samurai action and demons, there’s nothing in the theaters for you.  47 Ronin fails to deliver on both the fantasy and reality fronts making for a totally boring experience at the theater.

  • http://adamgetchell.org/ Adam Getchell

    I enjoyed this movie quite a bit.

    I’ve seen lots of Akira Kurosawa, and enjoyed his films too, but to me this was a pretty fresh take on the legend of the 47 Ronin. Certainly some of the other adaptations have been even less historically accurate.

    They used a lot of famous Japanese actors, for the quintessential Japanese myth. I mean, how can you complain about the performances of Oishi, Lord Kira, Lord Asano, Mika, Mizuki, or the Shogun? Perfectly played, in my opinion.

    Even Reeves, as a despised half-breed taken in by demons, struck the proper tone. Could you imagine Johnny Depp doing this role as well?

    They didn’t Hollywoodize the ending (46 of the 47 Ronin committed seppuku, per the legend). And the fantastic elements were … fantastic.

    I’m pretty sure that was a Kirin they were chasing down.

    The avian tengu yamabushi were spot on.

    The bakemono-kitsune dragon lady, was, as you noted, awesome. As was the actress playing her.

    As far as the romance goes, I think it was understated correctly. You don’t expect a full-on Western Gone-With-The-Wind fiery tempestuous romance to blossom there, that’s just not how things were done. It was scandalous enough that she even visits him.

    Also, unlike other movies, this one has a beginning, middle, and end. No sequels to this particular story.

    I loved the fantastic Japanese elements, and definitely want to see movies with more, but if they crammed anymore into this movie it wouldn’t be about the 47 Ronin, it would be fantasy Japan with some incidental stuff about disgraced samurai and honor.

    To each their own, but I saw a fantastic movie.

  • Charlie

    …and now I don’t have to! Thanks!

  • http://ypcomic.com Jamie Noguchi

    Ah, Kirin! I loved that thing.

    I did appreciate that they ended the film properly. That was a big concern of mine. But at that point, I was just ready for the thing to be done with.

    I’m glad that you found it enjoyable, though.

  • Pingback: Yes, I watched it. – Frog in a Well Japan

  • Quickning

    I heard (from the internets) the first cut of the movie was about the 47 ronin, and had very little of Keanu Reeves in it. The studio execs were confused, and brought Reeves back to shoot more scenes, to make him the star instead of a bad ass cameo. While I’m not planning to see this in the theater, I’m hoping there’s an original or director’s cut that comes out.

  • http://ypcomic.com Jamie Noguchi

    Interesting. Keanu did feel a bit tacked on to me. It would be neat to see this alternative cut.

  • xero42

    I’m 100% sure the lion share of the buget was from 3 places marketing costumes and cg/editing in that order You gotta remember Keanu actually digned over his oay from the matrix to the spevial effects team saying the worked harder than him so deserved it

  • purplelibraryguy

    Seems to me the problem here is that the story is, basically, not an action movie. I mean, stripped down to the basics, what it’s about is these dudes who employ major league misdirection for two years in order to get into position for a complete surprise attack, a spasm of violence in one night. And even that one night, again, depended on complete surprise; most of the violence would have been one-sided, whacking unprepared enemies rather than doing bit set-piece fights.

    So it’s not an action movie. It’s more of a spy thriller. The question is, will someone slip? Will someone find the two years of acting like a lowlife, pretending to have lost their honour, too hard and break? Will someone succumb and really turn into a drunken loser, and blab everything while they’re sloshed out of their gourd? Will the higher ranking ones be watched, and will those watchers suspect anything? There’s character and tension potential here, but it’s more like a John Le Carre thing than a samurai flick as we understand it.

    So they tried to make a samurai action flick but there wasn’t any material for one so it ended up both boring and contrived. No surprise there.

  • http://ypcomic.com Jamie Noguchi

    Oh man, a remake of this as a spy thriller would be actually kind of awesome! I think I know what I’ll be doing the next time I need filler. Ima just redo 47 until always!