Review: 47 Ronin on DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Download

Posted by at 1:56 am on March 27, 2014

47 Ronin47 Ronin is a film reimagining of one of the most popular Japanese folktales of samurai history.  So the story at it’s core is how the heroes follow the code the code of bushido – the “way of the warrior.”  If you are a follower of Asian martial arts films, you will expect to see the heroes show their loyalty to their master and be fearlessness in the face of death.  These actions should take place on a grand epic stage with great visuals (Cinematography).  And of course, there must be a love story in the mix.

The film is enjoyable to watch, but gets a bit bogged down by its mythic contraptions. Love, hate or brotherhood between characters is assumed rather than shown through character development. The story starts and ends with an unknown narrator, who tells the story as if we were all listening to a old tale by a campfire. The end result places a distance between the story and the audience and undermines our sense of the narrator’s credibility.  These problems hold back the film and may reflect the behind the camera turmoil of the project. More about that later.

Publicity for the film featured Keanu Reeves as the hero of the story, when really his character Kai is a secondary figure in the drama. Kai is a rejected “half-breed” in the land of samurai, a social outcast. Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays the leader of the Ronin, Oishi, who is the film’s hero as far as the arc of the story is concerned.

Sanada carries the film with his powerful presence; He has long been the go-to guy for American-Japanese co-productions and it’s finally nice to see him in a central role. Tadanobu Asano also shows up to color as as the villain, Lord Kira who is under the influence of an evil witch played by Rinko Kinkuchi.

After their Lord is killed in a dubious fight scenario, the Ronin begin their journey to help avenge their master and help his daughter Mika, escape an arranged marriage to Lord Kira. They encounter many trials and challenges that require both courage and honor, facing foes that are both real and supernatural. Kai’s mysterious past comes into play, and eventually the Ronin are vindicated, but not with an end result that most American audiences will find particularly appealing.

The visuals of 47 Ronin are well presented, with dramatic use of light and color. The CGI characters move fluidly and are wrapped in realistic textures. The fight scenes are adequately staged, and move the plot along, but won’t stand out in the memory of any fans who spend time watching more elaborate martial arts choreography found in Hong Kong films. Reeves performance could have been more energetic, he seems to play it a bit too much like Neo in The Matrix, but he also could have been given more to work with. The Japanese actors in the cast all give fully formed emotionally compelling performances.

At it’s core, 47 Ronin has the bones to be a great film, but the production was troubled before it’s long delayed release, giving the project an initial stumble from which it never quite regained it’s footing. The project was given to first time director Carl Rinsch, who after impressing the producers with his initial pitch had some difficulty with envisioning exactly what the film should be.

After being screened for executives who sent it back for reshoots and further editing, the high budget epic was released to lukewarm reviews on both sides of the Pacific.  If you are a student of film, the story of 47 Ronin depicts how chaotic pre-production and post production conflict can reduce a grand concept to a final film that is enjoyable but never fully realizes it’s potential.

47 Ronin was released on Digital HD March 18, 2014. 
You can bring home Blu-ray Combo Pack including Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD with Ultraviolet on April 1, 2014. Do please check out the first ten minutes and a the bonus featurette “A Look Inside 47 Ronin” below.

Rating 3.5


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