I’m not sure whether to dislike 47 Ronin or feel pity for it. The movie was supposed to come out in 2012, the budget somehow ballooned from $150 to $220 million, the director Carl Rinsch suffered a nervous breakdown while filming, he was fired shortly and the studio reedited and reshot the movie to make it more Hollywood-ey. Heck, Keanu Reeves was not even supposed to be the protagonist of the film and that changed after filming was completed. And Reeves had done this movie to finance his own directorial debut The Man of tai Chi which also bombed. I’m quite sure that a film on the making on 47 Ronin would be way more entertaining than this movie.
The Japanese press has called 47 Ronin the second worst thing to have happened to the country this century, the first being the tsunami. And the film pretty much is a lumbering, sloppy, utter mess. It’s offensive to the Japanese (and fans of Japanese cinema like me) because it doesn’t know the difference between a Yakuza, a Shogun, a Samurai and a Ronin. It doesn’t know how to develop characters. It doesn’t know how to construct an entertaining fight sequence. It doesn’t know how to create good CGI. And it certainly doesn’t know that post converting a bad movie to 3D is like poking our eyes with nunchucks. It’s a sad, stark display of everything that can go wrong while making a movie, and budding filmmakers can probably use the behind the scenes stories to know what not to do while making a film.
The story is credited to Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini but there’s no way even an alphabet from their script made it to the screen. The only thing the filmmakers had to do was follow the Ronin story – it’s a great, heroic, tragic tale of banished warriors avenging the death of their leader. They didn’t need to change anything because the material was gold by itself. Imagine 300 done with the narrative and aesthetic style of 13 Assassins – that what 47 Ronin would have been. But 47 Ronin for some reason throws in a witch, a dragon and other magic realism elements that make no sense and are quite badly designed to even entertain.
The acting is universally terrible starting with Reeves carrying the lone expression of a sad outcast and Rinko Kikuchi (from Babel and Pacific Rim) playing a witch as if in a Ramsay film. Hiroyuki Sanada (Kaneda from Sunshine) was originally supposed to be the hero and he’s clearly unhappy with being sidelined in a role that doesn’t make any sense. If there’s anything good to be said about the film it’s the one or two instances of grand production design, but that’s pretty much it. Director Rinsch is the protégé of Ridley Scott and is the guy behind terrific commercials and some truly amazing short films like The Gift. Whether it was studio interference that did him in or his inability to handle such a huge budgeted debut film remains unclear. But there are some cool ideas and some evident traces of a good film hidden in 47 Ronin, hopefully he’ll get to make something like that someday.
(First published in MiD Day)