I finally made it to see 47 Ronin last weekend, and I am happy to say that it definitely delivered! This movie had so many things that I love: epic Japanese drama, beautiful fantasy cityscapes, and exceptional CGI monsters.
The story focuses on an underdog half-Japanese orphan, Kai, who has grown up surrounded by the elite samurai warrior class, while being constantly reminded that he was of servant class or lower. Of course, the high lord of the estate has a daughter, Mika, who takes pity on the boy and becomes his only friend, a friendship that continues into adulthood. Mika’s father is tricked into dishonoring himself, and Kai joins forces with the other dishonored samurai (ronins) as they seek to find and kill those responsible for the death of their leader and regain the honor of their land.
I really enjoyed the plot of the movie and the casting. Keanu Reeves plays Kai as the worn and sad man that he would be after a lifetime of being scorned and abused through no fault of his own. His stoicism and loyalty are matched by his physical skills, and the character rings true. Hiroyuki Sanada is well cast as the samurai Oishi and delivers the proud, heroic character in a way that I have grown to expect from seeing him in other period pieces. Ko Shibasaki was new to me, but she plays Mika as much more than the typical high-class rich girl. She is considerate and kind, but also crafty and watchful, and works well as a complement to Kai.
The settings for the movie are beautiful. This is a gorgeous movie! Fantastic cityscapes are contrasted with lush, exotic landscapes and seascapes. There are darkly shrouded temples, complete with intricate carved pillars and perfect dusky lighting. The cities are reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, and show an attention to detail and mood.
Best of all, there was no skimping on the CGI for monsters, which are what make this movie not just your typical Japanese epic. There is a witch who shapeshifts from gracefully trailing green silk into fox, human, or dragon form. There is a monstrous unidentified beast who rampages throughout the countryside. There is a crazy underground monster fight club. And, there are creepy demons and ghost warriors that infest a haunted bamboo forest.
This movie makes the blog, though, because it is most definitely dark fantasy. Where dishonor is concerned, there is no happily ever after in this society, only the hope of some kind of retribution and that honor might be regained. Both the human and magical elements are cruel and unforgiving, and our heroes fight on in a task that has only limited opportunity for success. There is very little humor in this movie, and when it appears it is well placed in that it surprises you, but also brings the dark mood of the movie more clearly into focus. I loved this movie and it is definitely one that I will be adding to my own collection, to be watched over and over.