This film got some really bad reviews online, and reddit had several threads going about how shit everyone was expecting it to be. I left however feeling rather mixed about the whole thing… oh SPOILERS.
Ok so I’ll be honest, I walked into the cinema already feeling pretty biased against this film. It’s gotten some really horrible reviews, I followed it a bit on reddit and I’ve never really liked Keanu Reeves. Yes, I know, he’s the guy from the Matrix. It’s already set to be the biggest film flop of 2013 and only made $7m in it’s American debut. Remember, this film cost them $175m to make. It had trouble throughout production which resulted in changes to script, character roles and a lot of reshoots.
The story is based on a legend in Japan where 47 Ronins (Ex-Samurai due to being lordless) avenge their master’s death. The film 47 Ronins was released in Japan before America, and it’s debut proved unsatisfying. Japan has already had films, theatre productions and TV series based on this story, so having a new hollywood block buster that diverted from the original story so much probably didn’t excite them as much as Universal were hoping.
Differences between the folklore and the film (that I could discern quickly) Now I take into account that artist license is a thing…
1) There’s no half breed (Kai) in the original folklore. I know this was put in so that Keanu Reeves could have a part, and it also tied in nicely with the demons/magic aspect. But if you’re going to take one of the most loved legend of a country and put a completely new character as the main character… well what did you expect?
2) The love interest Miku didn’t exist, but I guess that makes little difference since the main character didn’t either… In fact, love almost no role in the original story of loyalty and justice.
3) Not only is the protagonist fictional, the original antagonist isn’t even mentioned. That’s right, the villain of our film isn’t even a villain in the original story.
4) The “one year later” skip where Oishi (The original main character, and also leader of the 47 Ronin) is very different… In that one year the original story tells a tale of Oishi and his men making elaborate plans to go off and work as peasants and also infiltrate the castle of the villain. Oishi himself pretends to be a drunk so that the villain does not fear him taking vengeance. A large part of the devotion aspect is the meticulous work and patience the Ronins had waiting for that year and an opportunity to avenge their dead master. So having a 2 second time skip where the leader has been in a pit… sort.. of… well.. Hmm.
5) There are no demons and magic in the original story. This is a big part for the film because it is the witch that ultimately tricks the Lord into getting killed (setting off the whole story, about 30 minutes in).They throw in the Tengu, demons/gods that resemble birds of prey, that somehow give Kai magical powers which he ultimately needs to use to defeat the witch.Besides the Tengu however i feel that all the other magical beings they’ve thrown in aren’t even in Japanese folklore. The white fox in Japanese folklore is powerful and divine enough without having to also be a witch, if anything that’s kinda offensive to the myth of the white fox. The beast they kill at the beginning? I have no idea what that was meant to be. It reminded me a little of Princess Monaoke’s god of the forrest, but they wouldn’t want to hunt that down right? Right?
6) More differences because of the fact Kai is the main character and we need to give him actual reason to exist. Such as going to the docks where foreigners are to get him back from being a slave/killing machine (his character totally changes personas in the 1 year time skip) Then them going to see the Tengu in the forests because they need to get swords, whilst a major part of the film, totally non existent in the folklore.
7) The entire ending climax scene. Obviously thanks to the 1 year time skip, the story has been changed so instead of carefully planned attack on the castle that took them a year to prepare for, they simply smuggle in as performers for a wedding that is also absent from the folklore.
8) When they are all given the noble death of hari-kiri at the end, it doesn’t show them being buried. This is important as they are honoured by being allowed to be buried next to/in front of their deceased master, except in all scenes with his grave, there’s clearly no room for 47 more graves.
9) Super cool skull poster guy gets all of 2 minutes screen time and maybe on line in the entire film.
Those are the main differences and in my annoyance at such a change of story I was unable to truly enjoy the film. The costume, setting and music were all beautiful, the actors (the majority of whom were asian) were great and it flowed despite their heavy accents. The demons and magic were in fact fun, although the witch annoyed me. Kai and Miku bittersweet ending was also nice. Oishi’s son is major eye candy. The CGI for the castles were rather disappointing though, although great for the monsters. It’s as if they had two different CGI teams?
Overall… I wouldn’t watch it again. I don’t think it’s as bad as all the movie reviewers make it out to be. However as a fan of the original legend, I was mostly just angry at how they twisted it. I wouldn’t buy in on DVD, and certainly wouldn’t watch it at the Cinema again. But in a couple of years time when they show it on channel 4, I’ll probably watch it.