BEARING WITNESS TO EVIL
renunciation of one of the oldest and most pernicious human institutions. Is it possible that without Phillip’s foresight Australia might have gone the way of the American colonies, and that Solomon Northup’s story might have been repeated on our own fatal shore? This engrossing and profoundly harrowing film should give us much to think about. BEING all too ignorant of Japanese history and folklore, I wondered at first whether 47 Ronin had anything to do with Ronin, that rather plodding 1998 espionage thriller with Robert De Niro. Was 47 Ronin a remake of Ronin, or perhaps — heaven forbid — the 46th sequel?
Then I read that the original 47 ronin were a group of samurai who defied the orders of their imperial ruler, the shogun, to pursue a crusade of vengeance against a corrupt court official in the early years of the 18th century. In other words, like many another Hollywood spectacular, 47 Ronin is based on a true story, one embellished through the years in Japanese art and literature.
It is unlikely, of course, that Kai, the most valiant of the 47 and their unofficial leader, would have looked anything like Keanu Reeves. But a touch of Hollywood star power doesn’t go astray. With his soulful, Christ-like countenance, Kai is a good half-metre taller than the rest of the cast, who refer to him contemptuously as a half-breed. We first see him slaying a hideous monster in the woods near the royal palace, a deed for which a rival ronin is allowed to take credit. Kai is in love with Mika (Ko Shibasaki), the daughter of a feudal lord (Min Tanaka); Rinko Kikuchi makes a wonderfully spooky witch; Tadanobu Asano is the sinister Lord Kira, Kai’s rival in love; and Hiroyuki Sanada cuts a fine figure as a samurai leader.
It’s the first feature of director Carl Rinsch, and the result is silly and tedious, but it’s enlivened by splendid scenery reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings and superior special effects reminiscent of the Harry Potter films. I liked the witch’s transformation into a white fox and the forest of swords where the samurai go to replenish their weaponry. For those of a statistical bent, 47 Ronin contains, by my reckoning, 18 battles, four monsters, 32 ghosts and 48 self-inflicted disembowelments. Unfortunately I can’t vouch for these figures, which may be no more reliable than the film’s treatment of the ronin story — with all its historical grandeur and sacred implications.
Chiwetel Ejiofor comforts Lupita Nyong’o in
Keanu Reeves in below