Review: 47 RONIN Is A Classic Display Of Hollywood Ignorance

Asian Editor; Hong Kong, China (@Marshy00)
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Review: 47 RONIN Is A Classic Display Of Hollywood Ignorance
Keanu Reeves can do little more than observe from the sidelines as first-time director Carl Rinsch desecrates one of Japan's most revered historical epics with an inexplicable parade of sorcery and monsters..and other, you know...Asian stuff.

The revenge of the 47 ronin is a real event that took place at the beginning of the 18th Century in Tokugawa-era Japan. While the details of the story have been adapted and retold through many different art forms innumerable times in the three centuries since, the central tale remains a stirring and beloved story of loyalty and honour.

In the widely accepted version of events, the evil Lord Kira provokes the stoic Lord Asano repeatedly into attacking him, disgracing himself and his house in the process. Asano is ordered to commit seppuku, and his land is handed over to Kira. Now rendered masterless "ronin", Asano's samurai guards are disgraced and banished, but 47 of his most loyal men vow to avenge their master - an act they know will bring about their own deaths.

In Universal's new version of 47 Ronin, written by Chris Morgan (Wanted, Fast 5) and Hossein Amini (Drive, Snow White and the Huntsman), the villainous Lord Kira (Asano Tadanobu) uses witchcraft in order to bring about Asano's death and immediately takes control of his land and moves in on Asano's beautiful daughter, Mika (Shibasaki Ko). Mika, however, only has eyes for Kai (Keanu Reeves) - a mysterious half-breed possibly spawned by forest demons - who is excluded from society by everyone except the benevolent Asano and his family.

When Asano's men are banished, General Oishi (Sanada Hiroyuki) and a small faction of other disgraced ronin hide out in the forest and plot their revenge. If they do not act within a year, the Shogun has permitted Kira to marry Mika and formally take control of their kingdom. Having lost their swords, the 46 ronin are rendered powerless, until Kai offers his help.

47 Ronin reportedly cost somewhere in the region of $170 million to produce, and much of that ridiculous budget is up there on the screen. Shot mostly on location in Hungary, the film features some impressive sets, garishly colourful costumes and an abundance of perfectly satisfactory CGI work. Production design is not a problem for first-timer Rinsch, where 47 Ronin fails spectacularly is in its handling of the material.

Watching the film, there is no clear evidence that anybody involved, not least the film's scriptwriters, ever set foot in Japan. In fact it feels like their research consisted solely of hazy recollections of seeing Kurosawa's Ran once in college, before skimming through a couple of Miyazaki films. Chock full of fantastical monsters, black magic, evil witches and malevolent dragons, 47 Ronin feels more like "Clash of the Titans in kimonos" than any previously filmed version of the story.

Respected Japanese actors Sanada Hiroyuki and Asano Tadanobu often look uncomfortable and embarrassed, not for performing in a second language, but because of the ham-fisted way a revered chapter of their nation's history is being turned into a sub-par Lord of the Rings adventure. 

The film's two lead actresses fair little better. Shibasaki Ko will always be remembered by western audiences as the murderously seductive Mitsuko from Fukasaku Kinji's Battle Royale. She has since gone on to build a respectable career as a leading lady back home, but here she has nothing to do but whimper and scream while the men fight over her like a trophy. Kikuchi Rinko, on the other hand, who has become Hollywood's go-to Asian actress ever since her Oscar-nominated turn in Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel, is frankly awful as the scheming witch manipulating Lord Kira from behind the scenes. Seducing men with her black magic, or transforming into a hokey CGI fox, it's a potentially excellent role with which Kikuchi could have a great deal of fun, but she simply isn't up to the task of being threatening and sexy at the same time. My suspicions are that Shibasaki Ko would have been a much more promising choice.

Throughout everything, Keanu Reeves' Kai is either sidelined or elaborately excluded. A construct of this film, his character is repeatedly victimised and persecuted for his mixed ethnicity and rumours abound that he was in fact sired by the demons who haunt the forests where he was found as a child. Lord Asano took him in, raised him and trained him to fight, but much of the film is taken up with Kai's efforts to win the respect and trust of the other 46 ronin. Most of the time, however, Reeves looks lost, unconvincing as a warrior, victim or potential saviour.

Taken as pure preposterous fantasy, there is some B-grade fun to be had from 47 Ronin, and audiences unfamiliar or disinterested with the original story or its importance could conceivably have a good time. However, anyone with more than a passing knowledge of Japan, its history, or even just its epic back catalogue of samurai cinema will struggle to see the film as little more than a baffling fairground attraction devised by a boardroom of ignorant bean counters. 
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47 RoninActionAsano TadanobuFantasyJapanKeanu ReevesSanada HiroyukiShibasaki Ko

More about 47 Ronin

[A]December 19, 2013 9:35 PM

Ouch...

laura nelliDecember 20, 2013 2:38 AM

Ohhhh and now the critics are graduated on japanese history?. If i want to study history i go to the school non at theatre... And 47 ronin is inspired to the samurai legend,does not want to be a faithful representation.... I think it Will very good movie. I am italian ( forgive my english) and i know the history of the roman empire... The gladiator is not well, a out the real story, but is a good entertainment....oh perhaps you love russel crowe and hate keanu reeves? Is probably. Fortunately i go to de cinema without listening critics rewiew.... On imdb many goooood film are rating 7 or less... For example dangerous liason.. 7?????? And hunger game( a adolescent stupid movie) 8????? Mah.....

Strange KaijuDecember 20, 2013 7:04 AM

You sir sound like you have a Samurai sword stuck firmly in your ass as I read this review. No one is seeing this for a history lesson genius, it's obviously using the source material as inspiration only to create a fantasy film you pretentious douche.

Todd BrownDecember 20, 2013 8:23 AM

One of the amazing things about this to me is that the studio clearly thought they had enough 'Asian stuff' for this to be a hit in Japan. They released it there first, hoping to ride a wave of positive response leading up to the US release. It tanked.

Goldie_Hawn_Golden_ShowerDecember 20, 2013 10:22 AM

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so do yourselves a favor and SHUT UP!!!!

Goldie_Hawn_Golden_ShowerDecember 20, 2013 10:23 AM

nobody is asking for a history lesson, you ding dong!!!! It's asking if it's a good movie and if you have a film called 47 Ronin, you better be at least accurate to the historical facts. So Shut your mouth!!!

SzmigielDecember 20, 2013 10:28 AM

If you are going make a vageish asian fantasy inspired by Samurai legends and cinema, why crap all over a well known story like the "47 Ronin"? To those saying it is not meant to be a history lesson just mindless entertainment, then why choose a well known story based on historical events in Japan as the name of your movie. Why not just call it "The Ronin"? or "Legend of the Ronin"? Or "Charge of the Ronin Brigade"?

It is like the Japanese making a movie called "The Alamo" about a Samurai leading James Bowie and Davy Crockett and the Texans against Santa Anna and his army of demons from hell.

Todd BrownDecember 20, 2013 10:41 AM

EXACTLY RIGHT.

laura nelliDecember 20, 2013 10:55 AM

Ma vai affanculo ignorante

MikeDecember 20, 2013 12:57 PM

Perfect.

MikeDecember 20, 2013 12:58 PM

Also, get the right director on it and I would totally watch that.

Hiroaki JohnsonDecember 20, 2013 1:17 PM

That Alamo movie sounds like fun. But what if we mixed it up, how about the Mexicans were trying to contain a zombie outbreak, and if the Alamo doesn't fall in time, the entire continent is likely doomed.

mgazoDecember 20, 2013 1:42 PM

i am really looking forward to seeing Asano Tadanobu on the big screen here in the states. stating he often looks uncomfortable and embarrassed, is pretty harsh. i would say your projecting some personal hangup on actors you wish where above being in this film. basically, you think he's such a poor actor, he is incapable of doing his job due to the wretched source material and is a gigantic sellout. some real hostility there. your review actually made me want to see it more. thanks.

servusDecember 20, 2013 3:27 PM

What "revelations" in this review weren't immediately evident from the trailers that have been going around for months? The feigned shock at Hollywood (or any other movie making empire such as Bollywood) botching history in making a fictional piece of entertainment is extremely funny. Big entertainment doesn't give a damn and never has about accuracy with a handful of exceptions (e.g. Kubrick's obsession with costumes in Barry Lyndon).

servusDecember 20, 2013 3:34 PM

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion...SHUT UP!!!!" Irony anyone?

TapewormBikeDecember 20, 2013 3:50 PM

I mean, this more or less feels like another attempt at making a new epic based on some public domain story, like "Snow White and The Thor" or "Jack the Giant Dissapointment". Historical accuracy shmistorical shmaccuracy. I take it that the author did not have fun, but I still wish I could learn a bit about the movie safe from the comparison to the adapted material.

TapewormBikeDecember 20, 2013 3:52 PM

I agree with the point mostly (except the imdb, because, who cares really) and it is hard not to hear your rant with a cute accent, so upvote for you:).

HowardDecember 20, 2013 4:45 PM

I don't care about japanese history/cinema. I just wanna see Keanu slash some eggrolls. Looks like fun.

Todd BrownDecember 20, 2013 4:50 PM

No, he's saying Asano is a good actor caught in a crap movie and good enough to be aware of that and uncomfortable as a result.

Todd BrownDecember 20, 2013 4:54 PM

And you win the most ignorant / borderline racist comment of the day award.

brandonDecember 20, 2013 6:22 PM

Whatever skank.

Myles Haruki NelsonDecember 20, 2013 7:01 PM

In terms of a movie not as an adaptation is it any good?

FlixtheCatDecember 20, 2013 8:49 PM

Great review. Not looking forward to this, I must admit.

marshy00December 20, 2013 9:27 PM

Nice!

marshy00December 20, 2013 9:28 PM

Charming

marshy00December 20, 2013 9:29 PM

I'm pretty sure you're making the same point as me.

marshy00December 20, 2013 9:31 PM

You read the review, right? The CGI is solid, performances mostly disappointing, but there's fun to be had if you don't care about the ruined source material. What else do you need to know? Oh yeah, the 3D is crap.

marshy00December 20, 2013 9:34 PM

Ummm, you're welcome I guess.

Goldie_Hawn_Golden_ShowerDecember 21, 2013 2:48 AM

I laughed because you said eggrolls. Eggrolls is such a funny word and even funnier when describing a certain ethnicity. You say you don't care but are interested in Asian stuff, that counts, which is why you wanna see the movie. Eggrolls are so good though I'm not sure if it taste like people though. Have you seen the movie, "Alive?"

Goldie_Hawn_Golden_ShowerDecember 21, 2013 2:54 AM

Opinions about the movie? Irony in what?

That One GuyDecember 21, 2013 6:10 AM

I thought the last paragraph sums it up quite well.
"Taken as pure preposterous fantasy, there is some B-grade fun to be had from 47 Ronin, and audiences unfamiliar or disinterested with the original story or its importance could conceivably have a good time."

NobodyDecember 21, 2013 11:15 AM

I only saw a test screening but figured no post-production work could fix the mess I watched. I actually thought Hiroyuki Sanada was the only Japanese actor who wasn't really bad in here. I'm not sure about Ko Shibasaki being better than Kikuchi in the witch role. Both suffered horrendously from having to act in English and unfortunately end up with cringe-worthy performances.

jack lanseDecember 21, 2013 12:21 PM

Watched it, slept for maybe almost half the movie, Entertainment or no entertainment, it has tainted the Japanese Samurai Movie whatsoever to me....like the review said, it's probably good if you don't appreciate any aspects of Japanese Culture....that aside the director made a lot of pointless Cliche dialogues that made me to have goosebumps from hearing what the actors have to say....end of story it sucked~

(at) RDMDecember 21, 2013 1:29 PM

Isn't this based off the anime series?

[A]December 21, 2013 8:47 PM

congratulations for having 24 friends who upvoted your very stupid comment.

Jason GorberDecember 21, 2013 10:19 PM

Here's an idea - do a film about PEARL HARBOR, but make it so that the Americans get a happy ending out of it... Oh, and along the way have two of the characters have sex in a room full of parachutes!

Oh, wait...

Teddy TinsleyDecember 22, 2013 12:31 AM

Everybody's a critic, It's a movie, who cares as long as it's entertaining. The true story ended with the Ronin being allowed a honorable death by self disembowelment, where's the fun in that. I want to see flying, super human swordplay and mythical beings using supernatural powers. Now that's entertainment.

JayDecember 22, 2013 1:01 AM

Actually, the story of the 47 Ronin is a folktale that was popularized in the 19th century by a Dutch author, whose story became popular in Japan in the early 20th century, and is largely believed to have never happened, as the given dates don't even remotely match up to actual historical records.

Michael ReidDecember 22, 2013 3:00 AM

You are way off base "largely believed to have never happened " by who exactly ?
The Ako Incident as its known is one of the most famous stories in Japanese History .
The first version of the play known as Chushingura was performed within weeks of the Ronin being executed or ordered to commit Seppuku ,only set 300 years earlier as it was against Tokugawa law to dramatize or chronicle any current events .
A Dutch envoy first related the story in the West a few years after it happened in the early 18th century .
The first written account in English came in the late 19th century ,authored by an Englishman .
It is not a "folk tale " Chushingura is the play loosely based on the real event known as the Ako Incident ,and its been filmed as a tv movie /drama and as an actual theatrical film at least 200 times since the first version in 1910 .

Michael ReidDecember 22, 2013 3:03 AM

No it was a real incident

Stanley KristiansenDecember 22, 2013 8:55 AM

I strongly suspect the original event was greatly embelished in the story. Recogog nzing this you will understand it is NOT history any more then this version is, in other eords dude it is just a story.

(at) RDMDecember 22, 2013 10:54 AM

I get that 47 Ronin was an actual historical event, but the movie is based on the Anime series which is Hugely popular in Japan.

Todd BrownDecember 22, 2013 11:03 AM

So 'hugely popular' that it's not even listed on the Anime News Network and googling '47 Ronin Anime' turns up nothing other than an animated prequel created by the producers of this movie. And which is not credited as a source on the IMDB at all, which it would have to be if it were an adaptation. You're going to need to prove a source for that claim, given that the makers are saying it's an original work and I can't find any evidence AT ALL of the series you say it's based on.

(at) RDMDecember 22, 2013 11:06 AM

So you're assuming when someone says "anime" it means motion pictures... that's pretty ignorant... 47 Ronin along with most animated anime series start off as graphic novels. Holy shit people.

Todd BrownDecember 22, 2013 11:17 AM

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Anime BY DEFINITION means 'motion pictures'. Graphic novels are manga. 'Ignorant', indeed, but it aint me. And, again, there is NO SOURCE MATERIAL whatsoever credited on this, it's presented as a fully original story in the credits.

rage72December 22, 2013 4:52 PM

Sounds like the same thing happened with Pacific Rim too Todd, making a movie about kaiju and robots , thinking it would do well in Japan, and it also tanked over there.

rage72December 22, 2013 4:54 PM

HIro Sanada is great in everything he does.

ricksomchaiDecember 23, 2013 2:19 AM

Welcome back to Twitch I guess lmao guys its just a movie lol Abraham Vampire hunter anyone ... I think its just for fun some of you guys are taking it so seriously, I will still watch this for sure :)

GonzaburoDecember 23, 2013 7:31 AM

She speaks the truth...this reviewer (Mudge) is usually very good but here he is WAY too concerned with showing his credentials by respecting Japanese history...I mean come on, Hollywood even disrespects and disregards American history, so what do you expect?

Look, I am sure this film probably sucks, but not for the reason that it 'dissed' Japan.

It was extremely obvious from the films' marketing that it was a fantasy romp with no basis in reality, let alone academic Japanese history. Also, Mudge should check out how accurate Japanese cinema itself is in it's portrayal of history. Or in fact the Japanese education system - and that about far more important issues such as wartime atrocities as opposed to frankly not very significant feudal infighting. Pot meet kettle.

Also, he is more worked up about it than the largely Japanese cast...who are well known and successful actors all, none of whom are exactly jobbing in the roles like those Arab guys who have to play generic terrorists in Hollywood. If the reviewers indignation at disrespect of Japanese history/culture outdoes that of top Japanese performers such as Asano, then...

Also, he seems annoyed that the film-makers have never set foot in Japan. So now it is necessary to do a masters in Japanese history or go backpacking for a year around Japan before lensing a fantasy pic with some Japanese motifs. Good idea: Please generalise it to all cultures and situations. I heard George Lucas hasn't been to a galaxy far far away neither.

I love Japanese culture, but a lot of these reviewers seem to think that Hollywood is somehow 'racist' or discriminatory or disrespectful towards Japanese culture: maybe, but most other groups, from blacks to Latinos to Arabs fare much worse at the hands of film-makers. And Japanese cinema and entertainment is not exactly cosmopolitan itself.

Relative to it's own standards and to other groups, Japan fares very well at Hollywood.

colinjames71December 24, 2013 2:25 AM

THANK YOU

marshy00December 24, 2013 10:54 PM

It appears you have me confused with James Mudge over at Beyond Hollywood, but hey, if you can't even be bothered to READ my name correctly from the top of the review you're criticising, you'll forgive me for not bothering to read the rest of your comment, which I'm sure is just as well informed and researched. Merry Christmas!

Ard VijnDecember 25, 2013 5:17 AM

Thanks Jason. You made me spill my coffee.

Ard VijnDecember 25, 2013 5:19 AM

From now on, I will refer to you as that filthy mudgeblood.

davebaxterDecember 25, 2013 6:01 PM

The movie IS an adaptation. Why the F**K should there be any "terms" wherein it wasn't?

davebaxterDecember 25, 2013 6:04 PM

Snow White, Thor, and Jack were all measured agaunst their source material, and fared accordingly. Why should this be any different?

HowardDecember 25, 2013 6:11 PM

Just got back from the theater. Movie was entertaining and my mom cried, thumbs up! Also Keanu > Tom Cruise. Keanu knows about tengus, u don't wanna fuck w/tengus.

Hiroaki JohnsonDecember 25, 2013 9:26 PM

And crushed in S.Kor and China. Who knows.

servusDecember 26, 2013 1:13 AM

Interesting side note from wikipedia about Japanese adaptations of the story: "Among both films and television programs, some are quite faithful to the Chūshingura, while others incorporate unrelated material or alter details. In addition, gaiden dramatize events and characters not in the Chūshingura." (from the Forty-Seven Ronin page at Wikipedia)

Apparently some Japanese versions fudge and disregard history as well. I remember Japanese film aficionados getting all bent out of shape in 2004 over a Japanese anime "inspired" by Kurosawa's "7 Samurai" entitled "Samurai 7" that featured, amongst other things, a cyborg. Obviously, the discarding of any respect to source material by entertainment industries (regardless of the nationality of that industry) is cross-cultural!

-It's also amusing that Lone Wolf and Cub has been praised for "Historical Accuracy" despite being completely fictitious.

-The Scots didn't fare well in Hollywood either in movies like "Braveheart."
You'll have to excuse me while I admire the "realism" of Zatoichi as he chops a house down.

Sebastian OssaMarch 14, 2014 1:32 AM

sounds like they were trying to do a pseudo Asian, 300 type movie.

Richard ValentineMarch 15, 2014 7:33 PM

You're not too bright. Do some more research Jay. You are definitely way off base.

doongaApril 25, 2014 1:34 AM

According to the following review, the problem with 47 Ronin is that it's too CLOSE to the original to work as a Hollywood movie!
http://japanvisitor.blogspot.j...

djw0510January 21, 2015 4:08 PM

Really? I thought giant mystical monsters were real..

Sweetpea ChickpeaSeptember 6, 2015 10:08 AM

I love the ending, true to the story, not a crowd pleaser.

Sweetpea ChickpeaSeptember 6, 2015 10:13 AM

Because it's fun and we'd never know that 47 Ronin existed at all without it.
Also, because having fun is healthy for a long life.

Sweetpea ChickpeaSeptember 6, 2015 10:15 AM

yeah i'm tired of the same things popping up in every movie, makes me understand why people are on their phone playing games in cinema, i totally get it, i'm tempted myself

Sweetpea ChickpeaSeptember 6, 2015 10:16 AM

hey! Don't insult douches! That's a valuable feminine sanitary product!

Rawr-er-fonSeptember 10, 2015 12:08 PM

"Keanu Reeves can do little more than observe from the sidelines as
first-time director Carl Rinsch desecrates one of Japan's most revered
historical epics with an inexplicable parade of sorcery and
monsters..and other, you know...Asian stuff."

I stopped reading right as i read this, what kind of reviewer thinks just because sorcery and monsters is in a story. that it ruins a historical time or culture?

If we cant have magic in one era, or in japan, why should it be acceptable to have magic and monsters anyplace else?

Dont be so freaking stupid.

Ever heard of nobunaga oda, the demon king?

Nothing more than a nickname, Yet sengoku basara literally turns him into a demon, and its freaking cool.

This is based on fuedal japan, We see yukimura, we see shingen, we see masamune date, and more. Instead of following the chain of events set in history, they are slightly changed to bring sorcery and monsters in the exact same way here.

This is why to do a review, you need to be objective.

And as such, why films like transformers constantly get bad reviews, yet outperform 90% of others.

Rooster BlueFebruary 15, 2017 10:03 AM

I think you are referring to "MANGA". Anime (animation) i.e. "animated" denoting movement, not static pics there lil' fella. Awww...

Rooster BlueFebruary 15, 2017 10:05 AM

It's a Keanu Reeves movie, that should say it all dude. Take that how you will....

Rooster BlueFebruary 15, 2017 10:08 AM

AWFUL, just awful...lol do you have a license to drive that thing?

Rooster BlueFebruary 15, 2017 10:14 AM

WHO IS MAKING THAT?!? WHERE AND WHEN CAN I SEE IT?!?
O M G!
I am a TEXAN! That IS pretty accurate historically from what we were taught.
(my teachers drank a little, among other things, I later found out though.)