47 Ronin: Bordering silly but has moments of good fun

BY Joanna Mendoza

Keanu Reeves in "47 Ronin" (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Keanu Reeves is the “half-breed” Kai in “47 Ronin.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Some might say that the ancient but real-life story of the 47 ronin (lordless samurai) who sacrificed their lives to avenge their master’s death is the stuff of Hollywood dreams. But it’s only been given the Hollywood treatment now, with the recently released 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves as a half-British, half-Japanese samurai.

While I didn’t exactly hate the movie, I’m not so fond of it either. There were good and bad things about it, but to end on a good note, let’s start with the bad, shall we?

Being a fictional account of a real-life event, the movie took some liberties with the narrative. In it, Rinko Kikuchi plays a witch named Mizuki, the secret weapon of main baddie Lord Kira, played by Tadanobu Asano.

Rinko Kikuchi in "47 Ronin" (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Rinko Kikuchi plays up the weird as the witch Mizuki in “47 Ronin.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

It’s very clear that Kikuchi had a lot of fun playing the sexy, evil sorceress. Unfortunately, her character made the film thisclose to being silly. Her exaggerated gestures and manner of speaking were probably intentional to differentiate her as one of magic, but they most likely weren’t meant to cause discomfort either, which is what I felt every time Kikuchi did her weird witch thing. There was one particular scene that seemed to make us (the entire audience)  collectively hold our breath, just waiting for someone to start laughing. Yes, it was so uncomfortable that it made us self-conscious about the way we could react to it.

To be fair to Kikuchi and her character, Mizuki wasn’t the only one. The supernatural creatures Keanu’s half-breed Kai grew up with also had the same effect.

Scotland's Isle of Skye doubles as 17th century Japan in "47 Ronin." (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Scotland’s Isle of Skye doubles as 17th century Japan in “47 Ronin.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Before writing this, I read other reviews and I was surprised at how much bad rap the movie got. Because despite my feelings about the magic side of it, I did leave the cinema with some level of satisfaction, mainly because of the gorgeous landscape shots and the battle scenes.

Those wide shots showing the ronin traveling through the lush countryside (shot on the Isle of Skye in Scotland) reminded me of fond Sound of Music memories. And scenes of magical Mizuki flying above castle rooftops took me back to my old-school Disney cartoon days. I think these are the types of scenes that lend themselves well to 3D. Even critics who outright hated the film said the landscape shots were a thing of beauty.

The same critics weren’t so hot on the fight scenes though, which they described as boring. To me, however, the battles were quite exciting in a sophisticated way. That may sound like a euphemism for “boring,” but I truly found them exciting. One scene even made me jump out of my seat. (I was the only one but still.)

Hiroyuki Sanada plays Oishi, leader of the titular "47 Ronin." (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Hiroyuki Sanada plays Oishi, leader of the titular “47 Ronin.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

VERDICT: 47 Ronin, also starring Hiroyuki Sanada, Min Tanaka, Kou Shibasaki, Jin Akanishi, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, is not for everyone. If your aim is to nit-pick, best to skip this. But if you want to see some beautiful landscape shots, and some cool sword fights, grab some of your best buds and watch this movie while it’s still in cinemas.


For more upcoming releases, check out our 2014 movie guide.

47 Ronin, distributed by Universal Pictures and which opened locally Jan. 8, is now showing in Philippine cinemas.

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