Monday, January 20, 2014

47 Ronin

Despite the scathing piece in Variety (and elsewhere), I went to see 47 Ronin. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. Sure, it was a lord-o-the-rings, 21st century 3D hyper-cinema blow-out affair, but you gotta expect that. And as much as I hate holding those dumb glasses over my own dumb glasses, I had a good time.

Mind you, I’ve seen quite a few versions of this story (popularly known in Japan as the Chushingura). But with Tadanobu Asano as the hated villain Kira, and Hiroyuki Sanada as the heroic avenger Oishi, man, this is a modern day revision I can live with.

Of course, Keanu Reeves is a piece of wood, but who cares? His character doesn’t get in the way of the central storyline. In fact, he hasn’t been this much fun since The Matrix

I think critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky captured the zeitgeist: “A multi-colored downer fantasy which combines bursts of imagination with a bleak worldview, resulting in something that rarely feels mainstream.” Yeah, that’s it. The film follows the original 18th century story of bleak, dutiful revenge with a faithfulness I did not expect. Watching this film reminded me of the dismal sales of my own samurai film books: This stuff doesn’t work for Americans. There is a deep cynicism that permeates Japanese period cinema that I like, but my fellow citizens do not. Put me back in my cage.

So if you’re asking me not if I should check this movie out, but, more importantly, why I should check it out, I would say because, despite the animated dragons and shit, there is a dedication here, a respect for the centuries-old subject matter, and an effort to integrate top-notch Japanese actors into the proceedings. These elements alone make this film a worthwhile experience.


Brian said...

Wow, someone else who doesn't spew venom regarding this film. I think there is a built in dislike for Keanu among critics that is a badge of honor and so anything he is in is automatically dismissed. I thought there was plenty to enjoy in the film from the sets, the Japanese actors you mention to its downbeat ending. My fave review was one in which the critic thought the ending should have been changed because it sent the wrong message of sacrifice to our youth. How can you argue with that thinking. Hey, I bought your books and everyone should. They are terrific.

Obenjo Kusanosuke said...

Will have to eventually get around to watching this. I think it will be on DVD and I will be properly sedated by some good sake to keep me from getting too agitated. :)

Patrick Galloway said...

Brian - Thanks for your kind words. Always glad to hear someone actually read my stuff. I don't know if you do disks, but the new Zatoichi box from Criterion kicks ass. The Blu-ray transfers are awesome; the color and resolution really pop, breathing new life into these already fantastic films.

Obenjo-san - I'm relieved you didn't upbraid me for endorsing such a "reel samurai" (as opposed to "real samurai") film. Japanese history buffs need to check their shit at the door, as this is all about the Hollywood treatment, but, remarkably, without the happy ending. Hey, remember when we visited the shrine of the 47 ronin in Tokyo? Good times.

dwyermckerr said...

Patrick, your samurai guides have enriched my life no end. I'd probably never have seen Tenchu, Shogun's Samurai or dozens of what are now some of my favourite movies. I'm Irish, for what that's worth. I've got the Mizoguchi version of 47 Ronin and love it to bits but haven't got around to Keanu's. I have no hate for the man, not a bad ol' spud compared to most in the business I'll wager. I'll give it a go no problem. If someone made Macbeth in Space I'd watch that too

Patrick Galloway said...

Hey Dwyer, I'm happy you like the books and that I've had some positive influence. Always glad to hear people are enjoying the celluloid bushido. It's one of those things that gets under your skin - no other film experience quite like it.

Me and the wife will be in Dublin in late spring (first time). If you're around, we can grab a pint. You can contact me at samurai[at] Cheers!

jay mutombo said...

Well said. I just got done watching this dvd and im not confused at all with the ridiculous and obviously directed attempt to discredit the theme. Its about honor and obeying ones oath even to death. That subject matter is lambasted in good ol USA becuase self sacrifice and honor are no where near an americans heart. its a huge threat to the establishment if our youth dared think they could affect change by devoting to a cause knowing death was the outcome regardless of victory. Reminds me of 1776 and 1850. cant have that type of courage exist anywhere in the American culture as "get rich or die trying" permeates everything from politics to religion. how dare the outnumbered and oppressed give all to set wrongs right. this movie is a must see for anyone who holds death a fair trade for being a slave to the system... of corse hollywood hates it. good people die for what they believe. they dont Conan single handedly and escape with the woman. Way to deep for americans