47 Ronin wasted forty-six talented Japanese actors whilst decimating Chūshingura in the process. The revenge of the forty-seven rōnin, which details a band of leaderless samurai avenging the death of their master, has been retold, performed and fictionalised since the incident’s conception in 18th-Century feudal Japan. The legend depicts daimyō Asano ordered to perform ritualised suicide, seppuku, at the behest of the Emperor after assaulting a court official named Kira. One year passes, and his now leaderless samurai re-group after their disbandment to avenge Asano’s death. An emblematic tale of loyalty, honour and sacrifice that has popularised Japanese culture for many years. Tropes that would influence legendary filmmakers such as Kurosawa and Ozu. Whilst these themes are heavily implied throughout Rinsch’s fantastical rendition of Chūshingura, minimal resemblance was supplied to the renowned historical epic itself.
It is extraordinarily rare for Hollywood to depict Eastern culture with the correct amount of precision and accuracy, only touched upon in such recent features as Zwick’s ‘The Last Samurai’ and Marshall’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. Its ultimate failure, especially in 47 Ronin’s case, is how Americanised the world, characters and story are when compared to authentic productions within the native country of Japan. For starters, employing an apparent Anglo-Japanese character as the audience’s gateway into Japanese traditions. Firstly, it’s historically incorrect, distracting from the validity and purpose of the tale. Secondly, it relinquishes the talents of its authentic cast that should’ve had complete control, particularly Sanada, Asano and Kikuchi. Thirdly, it’s borderline insulting. No blame on Reeves’ part, despite the abhorrently monotonous performance that would drive most sane individuals into executing seppuku themselves. But his inclusion arguably whitewashes the event, especially when the rōnin suddenly become dependant upon him.
Alas, this was to be expected from a Hollywood blockbuster, so some leniency should be offered. It’s a visualised feast that provides proficient production design alongside its vividly colourful costumes, designed by Rose. These combine together to form a shell of a former foreign land. A land with zero personality and/or flavour. Every mundane action set piece, to which the second act continuously follows one after the other, adds to the one-dimensional insipidness that Rinsch clearly could not direct. The characters themselves, aside from the courageous bravery that exuded from their emotionless faces, supplied minimal fluctuations to the story. It was all one-note. From the six-eyed beast hunt to the inevitable climactic sacrifice. Speaking of beasts, the supposedly epic fantasy elements were pointless. Failing to enhance the grandeur of its medieval world and act as sufficient plot devices. But hey, at least Kikuchi plays a witch of delectably hammy proportions whom transforms into a levitating serpent!
47 Ronin is nothing more than an aesthetically pleasing empty replication of a story and culture that withholds plenty of character. For every beautiful pagoda in the distance, there is a monotonous line such as “I will search for you through a thousand worlds and ten thousand lifetimes until I find you”. Urgh, such a waste of a perfectly reputable cast...