47 Ronin: A Review

So I saw 47 Ronin. I don’t hate it. That’s all you need to know. Move along.

You’re still here? Okay, let’s get into this: the movie is a pretty good sword & sorcery story, not as good as the recent Conan reboot but on par with the Scorpion King. The actors are all top notch. Even Keanu Reeves pulls off his role with aplomb.

Sure the story is clichéd and this yet another white man saves the natives movie – they call him a half-breed, but c’mon, the guy’s as white as John Blackthorne! – but I can push through that for the pretty good action (which becomes great action because no shaky-cam) and some decent SFX. I would actually recommend this movie to fans of fantasy and for ideas mining by RPGers.

I still consider the decision to name this “47 Ronin” a mistake because while it uses the basic concept of that heroic epic/legend/history, it has none of the specifics. Sergio Leone did not call it Yojimbo, he called it Fistful of Dollars and even Roger Corman had the decency not to call his movie the Seven Samurai and called it Battle Beyond the Stars. I actually think that “13 Ronin” would have been a better title – the number of ronin we can actually recognize is probably around that number and other good ’13’ actioners precede it, like the 13th Warrior or 13 Assassins.

Confession time: in my second year of university I worked on a novel based on the 47 ronin legend but based on a fantasy analogue of 17th century Scotland. Guess what? I didn’t call it 47 Ronin because it wasn’t 47 ronin. I honestly don’t remember what I called it. The point is, if you are going to twist a story so that it bears little to no resemblance to the original, why keep the name? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep became Blade Runner, why couldn’t this be “13 Ronin” or “Oishi and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”?

Sorry. Too much rantiness.

47 Ronin is a pretty good fantasy actioner, and I give it 3.5 Pacific Rim Witches out of 5.

Postscript: this movie has another linkage to the 13th Warrior. According to Wikipedia, it is “the second most expensive box office bomb ever behind The 13th Warrior” Apparently, I enjoy box office bombs. Who knew?

You can read about 47 Ronin at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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4 Responses to 47 Ronin: A Review

  1. Rob Justice says:

    I enjoyed it but was amused by how poorly marketed it was. From what I recall, Kai didn’t even feel like the main character, Oishi did. In fact, I felt like Kai was only there to battle Mizuki at the end. You could have gutted all of that and had an excellent movie. Again, from what I remember.

  2. Fraser says:

    Kai had a fair amount of screentime, and while it should have been Oishi’s story, Kai took away from that with the romance sub-plot. I think the fear was that without the Blackthorne/Foreigner POV character, the movie would tank in the US. In which case, make it Kai’s movie, tighten it up, call it 13 Ronin, and make me happy. 😉

  3. Rob Justice says:

    True but, and I am again operating from memory, all of the character\plot development happens around Oishi. I feel like they tacked in Kai for American audiences but never committed to it. I agree, they should have either added more Kai and called it 13 Ronin or ditched Kai and called it 47 Ronin. They tried to split the middle and it failed.

    I remember thinking that it reminded me of Last Samurai. The trailers tried to convince me that Tom Cruise the Last Samurai but it was really Ken Watanabe and in 47 Ronin the trailers wanted me to think that Keanu Reeves was the leader when it was really Hiroyuki Sanada.

  4. Fraser says:

    I would agree. And while I think 47 Ronin and the Last Samurai goofed as you posit, the same can be said of Shogun, although I don’t think most readers/viewers clue in that this is Toranaga’s story. To be fair, James Clavell did a much better job of integrating Anjin-san into the story than either 47 Ronin or the Last Samurai.

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