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In this fictional version of 18th-century Japan's most enduring tale, an outcast named Kai joins a group of samurai, led by Oishi Kuranosuke. Together they exact vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who shamed their late master, pushing him to suicide.
For more about 47 Ronin and the 47 Ronin Blu-ray release, see 47 Ronin Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 1, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tadanobu Asano
Director: Carl Rinsch
» See full cast & crew
47 Ronin Blu-ray Review
"I will search for you through 1,000 worlds and 10,000 lifetimes!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 1, 2014
47 Ronin is a film at war with itself. On one side a slippery, hyperstylized period drama based on one of the most well known accounts of honor and bushido in Edo-era Japan; on the other a wobbly, uneven, CG-slathered action fantasy that might have been better served burning in development hell. Green-lit in 2008, the long-suffering production brought first-time feature film director Carl Rinsch to the table in 2009, received an inexplicably generous $170 million budget from Universal in 2010, and began shooting in 2011; both in English and Japanese, with nearly every scene being shot in its entirety in each language. Audience interest began to build and a November 2012 release date was set... only to have the movie's debut pushed back to early 2013. A second delay soon followed, shoving the overpriced, under-hyped actioner to Christmas Day 2013 where it was forced to compete with a host of other films audiences were clearly more interested in seeing. Earning a critical drubbing, poor word of mouth and a paltry $38 million at the domestic box office (for a worldwide total of $148 million), 47 Ronin became one of the bigger box office bombs of 2013; one that arrives on Blu-ray much as it arrived in theaters. With very little fanfare.
When Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi's (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) master of ceremonies, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano, Thor: The Dark World), conspires with a shape-shifting witch (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel, Pacific Rim) to disgrace the noble Lord Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka), Asano willingly commits seppuku before the Shogun to preserve his family's honor. However, the Shogun grants Kira the right to take charge of the Naganori clan through a marriage to Asano's daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki, The Lady Shogun and Her Men, One Missed Call); the requirement being that Kira must give Mika one year to grieve over her father. After that, all that was Asano's will become Kira's. The forty-seven samurai loyal to Asano recognize Kira's treachery, though, and begin the long, arduous process of exacting their revenge. One of these masterless samurai -- these ronin -- is Kai (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, Man of Tai Chi), a despised half-breed who harbors a secret love for Mika. Joining forces with Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada, Sunshine, The Last Samurai), the leader of the ronin, Kai helps his fellow warriors battle beasts and monsters, acquire magical weapons and take the fight to Kira's doorstep, where the witch and other horrors await.
Mild spoilers ahead. Approach the next paragraph with a bit of caution.
Drawing more heavily from action-fantasy anime than literary or cinematic Chūshingura, 47 Ronin finds its inspiration in Ninja Scroll, Princess Mononoke and other Japanese animation; some familiar, some more obscure. But it fails them. Each and every one. The only effective use of feudal fantasy comes early on, in a thrilling sequence in which Kai aids the samurai in bringing down a giant beast for Asano. It's a well-crafted scene, yes. Exciting to watch and dazzling to behold. But it also lays crucial groundwork for the character conflict to come. Unfortunately, other mystical encounters are terribly anticlimactic and lend next to nothing to the proceedings, while some particular magical elements -- the swords gifted to the ronin chief among them -- change absolutely nothing, rendering the quest to retrieve them utterly pointless. Watch for Cinema Sins to rip the whole thing to shreds.
Other dramatic action beats glimpsed in the film's trailers turn out to be just that: glimpses on screen. The pistol-slinging, skull-tattooed pirate featured so prominently in Ronin's marketing (the same would-be mini-boss that looms almost as large as Reeves on the movie poster) barely makes an appearance. The behemoth Kai battles in the underground fighting arena has little to offer that wasn't already spoiled in various trailers (including his most fearsome attack and inevitable death). The massive metal samurai that towers over Kai and the ronin is built up to be an unstoppable menace... only to be abandoned when dumb luck saves the warriors the trouble. On and on and on it goes. Opportunity after opportunity squandered, as if 47 Ronin didn't have the budget to pull off its lofty ambitions. (If $170 million can't buy amazing, I don't know what can.)
Not that all is lost. The cast is better than the genre-hopping material they have to work with -- Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano and Rinko Kikuchi especially -- and Reeves is quite good as the quietly soulful Kai (even though romantic scenes are his kryptonite). The film's more realistic, character-driven book ends deliver as well, with a closing chapter that thankfully hasn't been Americanized in the slightest. No, it's all the mud and muck in the middle that slows 47 Ronin down, and just at the moment that speed and agility are called for. It doesn't help that Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini's screenplay unravels aggressively, as if it went through countless iterations, each one retaining all the pieces of the last until the end result was as convoluted as it was disjointed. The fantasy world of 47 Ronin doesn't mesh with its own reality, and there isn't much internal logic to the mythos. Screenwriting sentiments range from "this'll look cool!" to "I loved that monster in that anime!" to "throw in something even weirder," leading to a patchwork misfire that feels as if it's been stitched together from swatches of fabric lifted from too many disparate films. Rinsch makes numerous rookie mistakes too, losing his grip on the fundamentals in his pursuit of something visually arresting and thematically exhilarating. To its credit, 47 Ronin is both... but only on occasion. A decent rental? Sure. Just don't set your expectations too high. Scratch that. Don't set your expectations at all.
47 Ronin Blu-ray, Video Quality
47 Ronin at least looks the part thanks to a 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation that's quite striking. Within Rinsch and cinematographer John Mathieson's natural, earthy palette lies a wellspring of dusty hues, deadly primaries, lovely skintones and satisfying blacks. Contrast, though muted, is consistent and in keeping with Rinsch's intentions, and detail is spot on, with finely tuned edge definition (free of aliasing and ringing), wonderfully resolved textures and nicely preserved grain. A few optically soft shots appear, but none of it proves distracting. If anything, the film's CG sequences exhibit a handful of fleeting anomalies -- Kai's encounter with the Tengu master being the most relatively problematic of the bunch -- but each instance is attributable to the source, nothing more. Artifacting, banding and other encoding issues are nowhere to be found, and only a hint of intermittent crush creeps into the image. All told, 47 Ronin looks great.
47 Ronin Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track doesn't disappoint for a second. Dialogue is clear, intelligible and carefully prioritized. LFE output is bold and assertive, infusing battles, chases, clashes and all-out samurai war with the heft, weight and presence each dust-up deserves. The rear speakers impress too, creating a fully immersive soundfield that delights in flying arrows, rising flames, distant fights, the chorus of a dense forest, the vastness of a cavern, the screams of the fallen... anything that enhances and enriches the experience. Directionality is dead on. Pans are smooth. Dynamics are breathtaking. What more could one ask for? With Universal's brash beast of a lossless track, 47 Ronin edges closer to the gripping action spectacle it so longs to be.
47 Ronin Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
47 Ronin Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
47 Ronin is a bit of a mess, but if you can get past what it could have been, you might find yourself enjoying what it is. Problems will still abound, of course. The flaws are glaring and the missed opportunities obvious. The film itself isn't a complete loss, though, and there's enough here -- the cast particularly -- to make for a decent rental. Universal's AV presentation is much, much better, landing the sort of one-two punch the film never quite masters, and the only real disappointment to be had is the disc's supplemental package, which doesn't amount to much.
47 Ronin: Other Editions
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