Well this was a sad story. I just read a poem the other day about a couple, soldier and wife, both committing seppuku (the poem was called 'Patriotism', by Yukio Mishima), and today I watch a movie where a great lord does the same, and later his whole crew. What are the chances of that? With coincidences like this I almost wonder if it's some kind of sign... nothing about ritual suicide, of course, no way, but maybe something like: the movie could have been inspired by this poem.
Though I never really think Americans manage to portray Japanese culture in its highest and purest most natural form, this is one of the closest attempts I've seen in latter years. It reminds me of both 7 Samurai (as it is also based on a true story, and similar in many ways) but more so of 'The Last Samurai', another American movie portraying a historical Asian event that ended much more tragically than this one did. Though, I wouldn't consider this movie one with a happy ending either. If you truly believe that seppuku is an honor... then maybe you'll think differently, all I see is a waste of life. Don't get me wrong, their sacrifice is emotional; filled with courage, I get that, but this is where our cultures clash, and where something that even when portrayed in a positive light (when 47 ronin are ultimately accepted as samurai, and once again granted an honorable death) it is darkened by the bridge of beliefs; how pointless the act seems in the eyes of another. These things were previously aspects of Japanese culture I was fascinated with, but now I just find them... sad. Maybe that poem had a certain impact.
The movie mixes supernatural elements with sword fights in a pompous way. It's flashy, but down-to-Earth at the same time, and the final fight is incredibly smooth. It's all about the way of the sword, and I love the swords. They flicker. They shine. They're so sharp the samurai need only press lightly upon the edge of the blade with their thumb to draw blood. And Keanu Reeves? Well as the only non-Asian character in... most of the movie (apart from that slave-trade bit) he fits surprisingly well. But at the same time he doesn't really fit in at all. He has that trademark gaze of his and follows all the rituals, respects all the people and all that - but still seems to be fetched from a different place and time. That is explained within the movie though, so you could say his standing apart from the others is well-merited. He steals the spotlight a bit as the main character, especially on the movie cover, and though he is special all the characters play their parts: they're all special. They're the 47 Ronin. Anyway, I liked it. It was one of those inspiring and depressing watches, at the same time, with a cast of both great actors and characters, of which I recognize many from many many movies. It was an interesting mix of actors as well as an interesting mix of supernatural and historical, and both effects and acting were great. Good movie.
rated 4/5: fo shizzle