The legend of the 47 Ronin is a popular story of revenge and bushido (The code of the Samurai), and it has been popularized into various forms of entertainment in the Japanese culture. There have been multiple films, there have been several bunraku and kabuki performances dramatizing these events. And the events are as followed: A pair of young Daimyo are being given instruction to proper court etiquette when their instructor becomes cruel and brusque. One of the two young daimyo relents and offers a “gift”, the other remains true to himself and is provoked beyond endurance- he draws his dagger against the instructor within the home of the Shogunate. This unpardonable offense results in the Daimyo’s seppuku, his men are forbidden from seeking vengeance, and they are cast out as ronin. After nearly 2 years of planning, the 47 Ronin execute an attack that results in the instructors death and their own Seppukku. 46 die, the 47th controversial figure remains alive and is pardoned. He watches over the tomb of the others until his death of old age- there was literally no family relationship between this Samurai and any of the others. There is a terrific movie regarding this legend- Chushingiri came out in the 60’s and features the late, great Toshiro Mifune.
Keanu Reeves also stars in a recent release of a film that bears the title of the “47 Ronin” but quickly splits into two very different and separate films- in the Keanu film, Kai is half-breed eta and shares a forbidden love with the Daimyo’s daughter. He’s on a fairly typical “hero-quest’ through myth and magic to ultimately rescue the princess from the vile clutches of an evil sorcerous and her own Lord. This plot line features some interesting special effects, decent cinematography, and a best foot forward effort on the part of Reeves who I’m sure the studio executives saw as the star of the film. This film wasn’t bad, had some good moments, and was a very westernized way of attempting to shoe-horn in that level of familiarity. The primary villain for Kai is the evil witch, fantastically played by Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim).
The other film is much better. It follows the story of the films real hero, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada).He was the leader of the 47 Ronin from legend. His story is about honor, sacrifice, and duty. While he’s occasionally forced to interact with the story of Kai, Oishi sacrifices his reputation and comfort in order to remain true to Bushido. And while a few quick cuts managed to stifle the depths to which the story could have gone, I suppose better could not have been expected. It was kind of cool to see the Tengu in action, it was interesting to note the hengeyokai sorceress, and the final revenge of the 47 is cool. Okay, I enjoyed most of the movie but I have an addendum.
If you decide to see this movie, you can literally skip the first ten to twenty minutes of footage and pick up where the Daimyo is ordered to commit seppuku. That’s when the movie becomes increasingly tolerable and pretty good. You just have to be willing to sit there and swallow huge heaping drops of manure on what is largely one of the most endearing stories of feudal Japan.
3 out of 5.