All right, so let me tell you about this movie. Once upon a time there was
Keanu Reeves I mean a kid named Kai in Japan. He was half-Japanese and half-European and had been raised by the Tengu so he totally has magical powers no really you just read that correctly, I didn’t mistype. Just that sentence right there makes me deeply uncomfortable for a multitude of reasons (you should check out the racebending post about it) but I think what weirds me out the most is that he’s literally a (I am very sorry for using this phrase) “magical half-breed” trope personified and made inexplicably the main character of 47 Ronin. Despite the fact that technically he’s not even ronin (being, you know, not a samurai) and that the real main character of this thing ought to have been Oishi (played fantastically by Sanada Hiroyuki).
So all the samurai in Akou are out hunting down a kirin (I think?) because it’s been, I don’t know, leaving massive piles of kirin shit all over Lord Asano’s lawn and that just won’t do because the Shogun is coming to visit. Kai helps kill the kirin and everyone is a douche to him about it. We see a fox with one brown eye and one blue eye and I sure hope you like that close up of those eyes because you are going to be seeing it a lot.
The Shogun shows up with Lord Kira (Asano Tadanobu, perhaps better known to nerds as
Sir Not Appearing In This Movie Hogun in Thor) in tow and I’m not event certain why. But you can tell Lord Kira is evil because he smirks a lot and appears to be a patron at the same clothing store that supplies all villains of sentai shows with clothing made out of slightly cheap-looking metallic fabrics. And he has a woman with him who has messy hair and wears a shiny green kimono-ish but not really thing and DUDE LOOK AT HER EYES. NO REALLY. LOOK AGAIN. REPEATEDLY. CONSTANTLY.
This woman is the fox in human form, and she’s a witch. She’s also played by Kikuchi Rinko, doing her best Helena Bonham Carter impression. Her witch powers include:
- Crazy, prehensile CGI hair
- Turning into a piece of fabric and flying around the room like a demented magical carpet (but okay, this one looks pretty cool)
- Being unable to stand up without exposing at least one of her legs up to nearly the hip because SHE IS A WITCH AND THEREFORE SEXY SEXY.
- Making even the act of saying hello seem like a bad touch is about to happen
- Turning into a really terribly animated albino dragony thing at the end and getting stabbed by magical Keanu Reeves.
Apparently Lord Kira is at Lord Asano’s house because there’s going to be some kind of samurai combat contest thing. And he has a magical giant suit of armor with a huge sword that he pits against Lord Asano’s champion. Only the witch does something to Asano’s champion so instead Kai steps in and just embarrasses everyone by losing (despite being taught by the Tengu to KILL ALL THE THINGS) and not being a samurai, so he gets the crap beaten out of him.
So then the witch and Kira use a magical spider that poops purple hallucinogenic fluid to make Lord Asano hallucinate and attack Kira. This is a massive no-no, so the Shogun orders Asano to commit seppuku. And once that’s happened, declares all his samurai ronin and decides that Mika, Asano’s daughter, will marry Kira. Mika is TOTALLY IN LOVE with Kai, though, because of course she is, and she has a thing about wearing coats with weird collars over her kimono and I don’t think they dressed like that back then.
Mika gets hauled off to live with the guy who effectively murdered her dad, which could potentially be some interesting character development for her, but instead we just know she’s having a bad time because Kira’s servants make her wear heavy eye makeup and blue-tinted fake eyelashes. Oishi (who was Asano’s chief samurai but enough about him let’s talk about Kai some more!) gets thrown in a hole for a year and then…dragged out. Because reasons.
After being released from the pit and no doubt smelling terrible, Oishi stops at home just long enough to get his son Chikara and have a beautifully understated and tender scene with his wife, then ride off to go get Kai. Because we can’t do this without Kai. Obviously. He hasn’t been in the movie nearly enough. Kai has been sold into slavery on Dejima because reasons. As Oishi arrives at Dejima, he runs across that dude you saw in the previews, you know the one with the whole body tattoos that makes him look like a skeleton, and asks for directions. Well, take a nice long look, because this thirty seconds is the ONLY time you will see that guy, despite the fact that he appears in the trailer and on the fucking poster.
I think Kai is supposed to be somewhat mad, indicated by Keanu Reeves staring at Oishi a little more vacantly than normal. Oishi manages to snap him out of it and then they run away together, cunningly using the fact that apparently oil lanterns are like poor man’s plastique.
And then all the ronin meet up! Yay! Except they don’t have enough swords! Boo! Oishi leads his men to a village of sword smiths so they can get some there, but Kira’s men have inexplicably taken over the village and we learn Kira’s evil plot is to take over Japan…somehow. Kai kills the shit out of everyone to impress the other ronin, and then takes them to the forest of Tengu, because if there’s one thing we all know Tengu have, it’s swords. (…actually no.) Oishi gets tested by the Tengu, where they show him some illusions of his men getting killed to try to force him to draw his sword, but he refuses. Kai shows off he has magical Tengu powers, I’m sure this won’t come up later at all.
Then there are swords! Yay! All the ronin gather again, accompanied by music that is pure desperation given audible form. They decide to try to kill Lord Kira when he goes to his ancestor’s shrine, but it turns out it’s a trap. The witch sets everything on fire and flashes some leg, and the lovable fat ronin gets shot full of arrows, after which he shares a scene brimming with manpain with Kai and Oishi and then expires.
The ronin decide they’re not going to give up. They write down their grievances and all sign their names and add a drop of blood. Including Kai, who is now apparently a ronin because one of the guys who was a dick to him at the beginning of the movie has given him a second sword to carry, and samurai all carry two swords and aggggggh. But anyway, they find a troupe of actors who have been hired to play at the wedding Kira will have with Mika’s fake eyelashes, and since everyone in the world thinks Kira is a dick even though as far as I could tell he hasn’t done anything but secretly betray Asano and make some really questionable fashion choices, they agree to help the ronin sneak in to his castle.
The battle scene is actually pretty cool, I’ll give them that. Up until the witch turns into a dragon thing that Kai has to kill using his super special magical Tengu powers so he can save Mika. Oishi kills the shit out of Kira, which was a relief to me because at this point I’d half expected Kai to show up out of nowhere and save him and do the deed the way they’d been playing him up as the most important character ever, no really. But no, Oishi cuts off Kira’s head and all of Kira’s samurai simultaneously shit in their hakama.
The ronin go back home with Kira’s head in a bag. The Shogun is annoyed with them, but lets them all commit seppuku instead of hanging them like commoners. Which they do. And just to remind us what the most important bit of the movie is, all of the close-ups and focus is pretty much on Kai and Mika, because fuck the ronin, we’ve got a love story with the unnecessarily added character.
So, I kind of figured the movie would be bad, but I decided to see it anyway because I thought it would be super pretty and bad. Well, it was super pretty, but the pretty did not outweigh the badness. It was the little things, like the awkwardness of some of the English lines when contrasted with the fluidity of hearing the Japanese actors speak names. The editing was even. There were a lot of little scenes that felt random, like they didn’t fit a narrative that seemed cobbled together. (And why did so many of the night close-up shots look so dang grainy?) The scenery was beautiful but the CGI monsters were distracting and looked mostly terrible.
But it was really the huge things, like the way Oishi again and again got shoved out of the spotlight that really should have been his so we could have even more emphasis on the barfalicious love story between Mika and the character who was added to the story because maybe Hollywood thought audiences couldn’t handle a 47 Ronin movie if all the ronin were actually Japanese. It was the way the final scenes of the movie were stolen from the titular ronin, making it about Mika and Kai’s vow to find each other in the next life instead of the incredible determination and sacrifice of the ronin and their deaths.
That made me so. Angry.
Why. Why, 47 Ronin. All you had to do was suck just a little less and I would have come away not feeling like I’d been robbed of two hours of my life and ten bucks of my money. Had it not been for Kai, this movie could have safely joined Onmyoji in the “campy historical fantasy film” box in my brain. But no. You just had to give us another shot of Mika and Kai staring at each other while the soundtrack tearfully begged us on its knees to care.
ETA: Well, this explains why the thing felt so disjointed. Even a lot of the dialog.