BEAR­ING WIT­NESS TO EVIL

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

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.

A Slave; 12 Years 47 Ronin,

Chi­we­tel Ejio­for com­forts Lupita Ny­ong’o in

Keanu Reeves in be­low

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