Saturday, December 28, 2013

47 Ronin

I was not planning to see 47 Ronin. The very idea of Keanu Reeves (whose multi-ethnic background includes Chinese but not Japanese) in a period Japanese story is rather off-putting. The addition of fantastical elements into a story with historical basis is another strike against the movie. Then I read Howard Tayler's review, which was both positive and encouraging.

That review is entirely accurate. I was not familiar with the story of the historical 47 ronin before seeing this film. I just read the Wikipedia article, and recommend it. Interesting stuff. The movie does change historical events in rather substantial ways, but the core of the story remains. Most importantly to me, while many details do not feel very Japanese, the story as a whole very much is.

This is a very pretty movie, especially in earlier portions when large numbers of people are in formal garb. I am not an expert in period Japanese clothing, but while I'm not very convinced that the costuming is accurate, it does look good. I appreciated the color-coding of the different factions.

This is not a subtle movie. The evil people are gratuitously evil, and the good people are noble and virtuous. It does not have great depth of character or character development. It does have superfluous Keanu Reeves, extraneous pirates, and unnecessary magical elements. But it was entertaining, and I enjoyed it.

I do not normally refer to Rotten Tomatoes when writing reviews, but someone mentioned that this movie was getting 12% so I thought I'd attempt to explain how that can be, when I've given it a positive review. The answer, I believe, is that this film has much more in common with Japanese samurai films and Chinese martial arts films than it does with a movie like The Last Samurai, which Warner spent $140 million on in 2003. That film had Tom Cruise headlining (and some justification for his presence) and still only grossed $111 million domestically (though it did do rather well overseas). This movie does not have mass appeal - it has the slowish pace of a foreign film, a dark tone, and subject matter that a general American audience does not know or care about.

So, if you are looking for an exciting action film, this might be slower than you want. If you are looking for a historical drama, this is wildly inaccurate. If you are looking for a samurai film, this has Keanu Reeves. But if you are looking for a historical-ish film and bring to it an appreciation of Japanese culture without a great deal of concern for strict accuracy, then you will probably enjoy this film as much as I did, which was quite a bit.

1. Gravity
2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3. Much Ado About Nothing
4. Frozen
5. Now You See Me
6. The World's End
7. Ender's Game
8. Despicable Me 2
9. Star Trek: Into Darkness
10. Thor: The Dark World
11. Oblivion
12. Pacific Rim
13. Rush
14. Iron Man 3
15. Kick Ass 2
16. American Hustle
17. 47 Ronin
18. Man of Steel
19. Jack the Giant Slayer
20. Beautiful Creatures
21. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
22. The Family
23. RIPD
24. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
25. Oz the Great and Powerful
26. Epic
27. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
28. The Wolverine
29. Elysium
30. Monsters University
31. Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters
32. The Grandmaster
33. Machete Kills
34. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
35. Carrie
36. The Great Gatsby
37. The Lone Ranger
38. This is the End

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