47 Ronin – The West tries to do the East

I watched 47 Ronin the other day, a movie I was expecting to be absolute crap. The reviews were almost unanimously bad, and while I agree it was mediocre, I don’t think it was bad as a lot of people made out. It was certainly no masterpiece, but it was entertaining – in a sort of switch your brain off type way. But put it this way, I would watch it any day of the week instead of Michael Bay’s Transformers. I am still bitter at what he did to my childhood heroes!

Anyhow, 47 Ronin was a retelling of one of Japan’s most famous samurai stories (and did in fact happen – although has likely becoming increasingly embellished with each retelling). Ultimately, the story is of sacrificing one’s self – particularly for one’s lord. If your lord is killed, it’s your responsibility to avenge him – your life is not as important as upholding his honour. Or thereabouts.

Without retelling the story, 47 Ronin (masterless samurai) do just that, and even knowing that avenging their lord will end with their own need to commit ritual seppuku, they do it anyway.

47 Ronin the movie sticks vaguely to this story, throwing in a lot of fantastical elements along the way. From a fox witch to Buddhist tengu who resemble aliens (or Voledemort heh), it really struggles to find its own identify. The fantastical elements are weak, and often find themselves second place to the regular story. The movie is beautifully shot, with some impressive visual effects, but that’s about it.

But I don’t really wish to talk about the plot, the acting, the character development (or lack of) – it’s all forgettable. What really got my goat about this movie: it was in English.


I knew before watching it that it was in English, but it still phased me. It reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha, which had the same problem. By setting a movie in Japan, using Japanese actors, and doing everything possible to make the setting as true to Japan as possible – to then have all the Japanese speak English – is jarring and ridiculous. It sounds stupid, and is a cultural slap in the face.

IF this movie was in Japanese, with even Keanu Reeves speaking Japanese – it would still be a crap movie – but it would be less so. Without doing anything else, it would automatically be more authentic, more interesting. It would also allow the director to use other actors than many of the same old faces that tend to show up as ‘the Japanese guy’ or ‘the Ninja guy’ in other western movies, such as the Wolverine.

Japanese is an extremely expressive language, and one that’s well suited to period pieces, where the emotional cries of samurai matches their often larger than life actions. This movie had none of that. I just couldn’t take it seriously and wouldn’t recommend it on those grounds alone.


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