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 47 Ronin - Film review

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Enlightened Viewer

PostSubject: 47 Ronin - Film review   Wed Jan 08, 2014 12:13 am

Telling a well-known tale of honour, love, betrayal and revenge Carl Rinsch’s remake of 47 Ronin is being panned by the critics. Having seen the film, I think I’ve an idea of why, after all, compared to the 3D/CGI fests centred around larger than life characters, who generally save the world with a certain amount of panache and humour, 47 Ronin’s insular tale of a Japanese master’s coup by a rival diamyo is terribly straight faced. Yes the film contains CGI, yes you can see it in 3D, yet many critics consider 47 Ronin to be a dull fantasy adventure. But are such comments fair assessment?

47 Ronin has its weaknesses. It doesn’t contain the charm of such films as Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon (Ang Lee - 2000), or emulate the samurai fighting style of Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins (2010). In a number of respects this film is simply an adventure film with katanas and a dash of fantasy manoeuvres – generally against CGI opponents. I think the film suffers because of this. It becomes overly ‘action’ orientated and loses its samurai focus. After all, this is the story of how a group of dishonoured samurai warriors avenged the wrongful death of their master. Although the action scenes are well constructed, they don’t contain the stylised choreography one might expect. There is an attempt to blend the action/samurai dichotomy, but I felt this was an uncomfortable liaison. The only warrior that doesn’t begin as a samurai is Kai, the half breed (Keanu Reeves) and within the construct of the narrative his fighting style can be perceived as logical.

One aspect of 47 Ronin which I enjoyed was the performances. There’s been some criticism of these, but I felt there was a real attempt to achieve a level of stylisation appropriate to the culture depicted. True to Japanese cinema, much was portrayed through the eyes of a character. Quite early on, as Kai, Keanu Reeves managed to speak volumes in one scene with the level of emotion he portrayed in just a look. Also, the camera lingered at times, and rightly so, but for those unfamiliar with Japanese cinema this would perhaps just feel slow. 47 Ronin isn’t a briskly told tale, rather it’s a paced narrative that gives cause and effect as it develops. Unfortunately, this paced narrative juxtaposes quite uncomfortably with the action set pieces resulting in a lack of tension.

So what does 47 Ronin get right? Well, for starters the detail. If we look at what is achieved in relation to the sets, external locations (Budapest and Japan), the depiction of political hierarchy/agendas, the conflict between honour and duty, the costumes…. there is a great deal that is really good. It seemed to me that many of the sets had been built in the open air on location. They were quite stunning. However, I dare say Shepperton Studios were used for some of the internal shots, in which case the editing is excellent. My view here is that although the fight sequences were a bit of a mishmash, the cinematic quality of the scenes, their depth due to attention to detail is pretty darn good. Visually, this is a very solid piece of filmmaking. In addition, whereas CGI can be overbearing and obvious, due to the fact that spirits, demons and ghosts feature so strongly and regularly in Japanese films, CGI effects blended almost seamlessly into this movie.

In its totality, 47 Ronin is something of a mixed bag. It has strengths and weaknesses but overall is a solid film. In time, perhaps, its strengths may begin to surface through the wave of negativity that has surrounded its cinematic release. However, 47 Ronin is worth seeing on the big screen due to its visual quality. In addition, if you enjoy a slower paced narrative with cause and effect, rather than fast action with glib heroes, you should enjoy this.

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Pole Dancer Impersonator

PostSubject: Re: 47 Ronin - Film review   Wed Jan 08, 2014 3:05 am

I'm curious about this movie and your compelling review has rekindled my interest. I will definitely watch it when it comes to theatres here in... April. I'm a sucker for samurai movies. Smile

"Growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional."
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Catnip Purveyor

PostSubject: Re: 47 Ronin - Film review   Wed Jan 08, 2014 3:51 am

I was eager to see this when I first heard about it, but the trailer kind of put me off. I'm a fan of the Inagaki version, and wasn't expecting this to be so highly stylized. It made me think of 300 (a film I really disliked)... historical, but only just barely. The fact that you mention the abundance of CGI (another pet peeve of mine), I don't know if I'd like this film.

I still might see it, but I'd rather have had a more traditional chambara in English.
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Enlightened Viewer

PostSubject: Re: 47 Ronin - Film review   Wed Jan 08, 2014 8:39 am

Fortunately Kana, there isn't a huge amount of CGI and I didn't find it overbearing - it's seamless and very well done.  The Hobbit films have far more.  Much of the film's focus is on human relationships and the central theme is honour versus power - what that means to certain people and how it influences their behaviour.

@ Cara - that's a lovely comment - thank you! I hope you enjoy the film when you get chance to see it.

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Pole Dancer Impersonator

PostSubject: Re: 47 Ronin - Film review   Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:33 pm

I wouldn't judge a film by its trailer. Trailers almost universally fail to give an accurate representation of the movie they are supposed to depict.

I don't know what you think about the Hobbit films... The first one was ok (I actually liked it more than the LoR movies) but the second is a flimsy adaptation with shoddy editing and it lacks any character development (which was the most important thing in Bilbo's story). The addition of the "she-elf" wasn't as bad as some other changes (the worst offender IMO being the introduction of Sauron shifting the entire focus away from Smaug and the use of the word mutant in relation to Gimli by Legolas). Last but not least Thranduil's pointless and gratuitous CGI was probably the most distracting (and I'm not even talking about his eyebrows).

I remember commenting on the LoR movies that Gollum wasn't so great because it wouldn't age well and I'm pretty sure that in a few years most of these effects will look even worse. The scenes with Gandalf facing Sauron in the Hobbit looked really fake...

I've watched the 47 Ronin trailer and I find it a bit boring (another reason why I hate trailers, they try too hard to condense everything in a few minutes) but at least it doesn't remind me too much of Bioman (unlike Azumi 2 for instance).

"Growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional."
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Catnip Purveyor

PostSubject: Re: 47 Ronin - Film review   Thu Jan 09, 2014 12:49 am

I guess I just have trouble getting past their decision to turn it into a fantasy. I want to see a proper English-language chambara in Western cinemas, preferably with western-born Asian actors. Something of the quality of the Yoji Yamada's samurai trilogy (which you should check out if you are interested in samurai films). The fact that this is being perceived as a critical and box office bomb will just make it more difficult to make such a film in English.
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