© Universal Pictures International Germany GmbH

47 Ronin
U.S.A. 2013

Opening 30 Jan 2014

Directed by: Carl Rinsch
Writing credits: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada
Principal actors: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka

A ronin is a Japanese samurai soldier who has lost his master. In this fantasy film, based on true events, 47 samurais lost their master, Asano. In 1701 he organized an extravagant welcoming festival for Lord Kira. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Kira felt insulted and demanded that Asano commit seppuku (another word for hara-kiri). Asano complied with great ceremony, dressed in a white robe, thus leaving his men without a master and dishonored. Two years later they regrouped under the leadership of Oishi, attacked the castle of Lord Kira and managed to kill him. Thus did they retrieve their honor, as well as take revenge. After achieving this goal, they were quite prepared to do penance for the crime of murder, also by committing seppuku. Only one ronin survived to old age. That’s the true story (according to online resources, e.g., Wikipedia). It all started in 1701on the 14th day of the 12th month of a Japanese era called Genroku, which today would be January 30. However, the Japanese celebrate the event on December 14; they visit the graves and view the men’s original clothing and armor.

This historical event immediately became popular as a play, an opera, even a puppet show. There have been six films, this being the newest version. All the basic facts are there, but, since this is the 21st century, present-day audiences must be satisfied, therefore myths are added. Keanu Reeves plays a “halfbreed” or Eurasian, named Kai, who is abandoned by his mother, saved by fantasy people (bald, no ears, yellow eyes), and finally adopted by Asano in his prosperous days. Kai does the drudge work without compensation and lives in a hut, which Princess Mika, who loves him, visits. Soon his priceless leadership talents are recognized for what they are, and he rises in the ranks. In this version there is a sexy witch with one brown and one blue eye; she is a concubine in the palace of Kira, when she isn’t running around disguised as a white fox or a silver spider or some unusual flying object. In this case (and I hope I’m not giving too much away) the survivor is Chikara, the extremely good-looking son of Oishi.

So, here you have the original true story with Hollywood touches, appropriate music including drummers, extraordinarily beautiful buildings, flowing costumes, and even cherry blossoms. I definitely recommend it to you fantasy film lovers, and to those who wish to learn more about true Japanese history and customs. (Becky Tan)

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