Review: ’47 Ronin’ has dragons, giants, alien monks and sad Keanu

Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada seek vengeance in "47 Ronin." Credit: Frank Connor
Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada seek vengeance in “47 Ronin.”
Credit: Frank Connor

’47 Ronin’
Director: Carl Rinsch
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

None of the previous film adaptations — nor the real-life version, for that matter — of Japan’s beloved “forty-seven ronin” story have included shape-shifting henchwomen, giant, horned rampaging beasts with eight eyes or sad Keanu. That the new “47 Ronin” includes all these plus more is not in itself a bad thing. Tales are made to be pummeled into shapes that please and entertain each era. If anything, this American-shepherded but Japan-set monstrosity ought to be more insane. Like this summer’s “The Wolverine,” it boasts a towering samurai. But the film doesn’t do anything with him other than have him stand around and show that, yes, there’s an enormous samurai dude. He’s armored up with nowhere to go.

The basic story remains roughly the same. A feudal lord assaults another lord, Kira (Tadanabu Asano); though he only grazes Kira, he is forced to commit seppuku. Disgraced and leaderless, the lord’s 47 ex-samurai — of whom we get to know about four — seek to right their master’s name and avenge his death. Added is the rampant fantasy element. Kira isn’t just evil but also has a vamping sorceress (Rinko Kikuchi) who turns into a preening fox and later a dragon. Rather than debate the merits of vengeance — which will inevitably result in their own group seppuku — our heroes wander off into muddled, under-explained adventures, including getting magic swords from a cadre of monks who look like rejects from “Babylon 5.”

The most egregious, to some, addition is Keanu Reeves, as an English-Japanese “half-breed” who worms his way into the ronin (because he wants to die?). He incurs a spate of racism from the Japanese cast; his revenge is that his presence forces everyone to speak usually belabored, stilted English. To his credit, Reeves and the Western filmmakers try their best to assimilate and adopt to the brooding, ritualistic rites of the culture and the story. This is a tale of honor, and even with fighting giants and suddenly materializing superpowers, it sticks closer to the tale — in particular its ending — than one would think from a Hollywood co-option of foreign product.

Thing is, the story actually runs on nuance, not action. The most famous film version is Kenji Mizogichi’s brilliant take from 1941, which ran two parts over four hours and spent most of its time with its characters brooding and debating what to do, as though it was populated by 47 Hamlets. (Even with gobs of time, most of its action is purposefully kept off-screen, related through ancillary characters.) This one tries to distract us with pretty images and fighting and creatures. But aside from a quiet, sneak attack leading up to a flaccid big battle, it’s all for naught.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Miley Cyrus hospitalized, cancels Kansas concert, condition unknown,…

Singer Miley Cyrus was hospitalized on Tuesday night after suffering what is believed to be 'a severe allergic reaction' to antibiotics medication. The 21-year-old Bangerz…

News

Explosions in new Boston Marathon bomb panic, 'twisted'…

A fresh Boston Marathon terror alert, which caused Bomb Squad officers to order an evacuation while two controlled explosions were carried out, was today being…

National

Reddit boosts news capabilities in social media turf…

By Jennifer SabaNEW YORK (Reuters) - Reddit, a website with a retro-'90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As,…

Local

New York joins accord to strengthen popular vote…

New York State joined a nationwide effort that would gives the state's 29 electoral votes for president to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

Entertainment

Miley Cyrus hospitalized, cancels Kansas concert, condition unknown,…

Singer Miley Cyrus was hospitalized on Tuesday night after suffering what is believed to be 'a severe allergic reaction' to antibiotics medication. The 21-year-old Bangerz…

Television

'Orphan Black's' Jordan Gavaris talks Felix's Season 2…

Jordan Gavaris plays heroically helpful foster sibling Felix to main clone Sarah on "Orphan Black." We talked to him about what’s ahead for him in…

Going Out

Accomplice Tour: New York (Spoiler Alert)

When I signed up for the Accomplice show tour, I had no idea what I was in for. But every grimy job comes with a great reward.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, April 15: 'New Girl,'…

'New Girl' Nick and Jess are hiding their breakup from the other loft residents. And Winston passes the police academy exam! That guy needed some…

NBA

Nets miss chance to clinch No. 5 seed…

Nets head coach Jason Kidd expressed little concern after a 109-98 loss to the Knicks, but others seemed to disagree.

NFL

Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…

NBA

Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.

Style

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show moving to England

It will still broadcast on CBS this fall.