What is a Ronin?
Every now and then you watch a movie that you just know is going to piss you off. You know; you’re aware of how awful it will be, and how offensive it’ll likely be to not only your intelligence, but your senses, and taste. But for some reason you watch it anyway. I watched “47 Ronin” (aka “How Keanu Reeves Saved Japan”), and I have to say I don’t know what else I expected from it. I guess it’s my fault.
“47 Ronin” is an adaptation – in the absolute loosest sense of the word – of the famous Japanese legend. I will summarize: A Daimyo assaults a Lord after being insulted and is forced to commit seppuku (honourable suicide). Forty-seven of his samurai (now ronin, leaderless samurai) plot revenge on the Lord and eventually murder him, then commit seppuku themselves. This film tells a different story. Basically, a witch possesses the Daimyo, tragedy unfolds, and the 47 Ronin rally behind a magical white man (Keanu, as not-Neo) to lead them on a poorly planned revenge spree against an army of samurai (whose only crime is serving a lord the Ronin don’t like), a witch who can turn into a dragon, and an empty suit of armour. This results in most of them being burned to death before the rest commit seppuku.
Unfortunately, no one can be told what a Ronin is. You have to see it for yourself.
We can first deal with the obvious. Whatever sliver of talent Keanu Reeves may have once had, it fell out of his head years ago. He sleepwalks through the entire film (luckily he doesn’t actually have that may lines), and just distracts from any brief moment of entertaining action with how dull he is. Adding to this, even though “47 Ronin” is set in feudal Japan, and every other character is Japanese, they’re all speaking English. Now, most people don’t argue when a period film casts a bunch of British actors with British accents to seem “authentic”, but in a Japanese story, with Japanese actors, having them all speak broken English with heavy accents is just insulting. It hurts every performance and just makes every attempted emotional scene that much more cringe-worthy.
Bad acting, mediocre effects, and horrible editing (not just scene changes, but in-scene cuts are awful) are only the foundation of this movie’s problems. When they made “The Last Samurai” a white soldier, people were already skeptical. But now, to take such a famous legend as the Forty-seven Ronin, and have them all following the lead of an entirely fictional, white man, who just happens to have magical powers, is just insulting. He adds nothing to the story, and his entire character just seems thrown in at the last second. Probably because he was. His back story isn’t fleshed out. His motivation is barely touched on. And yet, he’s suddenly front and center as one of the forty-seven.
I’m not going to tell you to run out right now and read about the Forty-Seven Ronin, or go watch one of the earlier films. You don’t have to. Just don’t watch this one. There’s no point. It won’t add anything to your life. All it’ll do is bore you for its duration, and occasionally annoy you with its presumption. You’ll walk away irritated, bored, and feeling ever so slightly more culturally insensitive. This is a bad movie.