Hon­our among men

Keanu Reeves bat­tles samurai and a sorcer­ess in 47Ronin.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By MELODY L. GOH en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

IN to­day’s world, to fight to the end for the hon­our of one’s fallen mas­ter is not some­thing that could – or would – be done by any­body. This kind of true loy­alty and fear­less­ness is no longer dis­played among mod­ern folk, but that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.

Dur­ing the Toku­gawa era in Ja­pan (or Edo pe­riod), when the shoguns were given the power to rule the coun­try, to live and die with hon­our was some­thing that ev­ery­one was bound to up­hold. The samurai made up the coun­try’s mil­i­tary elite and ad­hered to the bushido code, which is ba­si­cally made up of seven virtues – rec­ti­tude, courage, benev­o­lence, re­spect, hon­our, hon­esty and loy­alty.

For a samurai to not live by any of th­ese virtues is con­sid­ered a dis­hon­our to him­self and dis­re­spect­ful of his mas­ter and lead­ers.

In the movie 47 Ronin, star­ring Keanu Reeves and Ja­panese ac­tor Hiroyuki Sanada, the his­tor­i­cal tale of how 47 men fought a whole army to avenge their mas­ter’s death is once again brought to light. This time, how­ever, fic­tion­alised char­ac­ters and story arcs have been cre­ated and mixed in the orig­i­nal tale to give it a Hol­ly­wood twist.

“Yes, it’s more of a re-imag­ined ver­sion of the orig­i­nal ronin story. The his­tor­i­cal parts of the tale are still the same, but we do have a few new char­ac­ters added in, which then al­lowed us to look at the film from a dif­fer- ent an­gle,” ex­plained first-time di­rec­tor Carl Rin­sch dur­ing one-on-one in­ter­view ses­sions with him and cast mem­bers of 47 Ronin in Tokyo, Ja­pan.

Rin­sch, a pro­tege of ac­claimed di­rec­tor Ri­d­ley Scott, has only pre­vi­ously made com­mer­cials and short films for the lat­ter’s com­pany, RSA.

“Of course it is dif­fer­ent from di­rect­ing a short film be­cause there’s a big­ger bud­get, work­force and cast, and there’s more time to do ev­ery­thing so it’s great. But then again, there’s more time to do ev­ery­thing. So you tend to go over ev­ery take again and again, pore over ev­ery sin­gle frame, edit and re-edit and re-edit ... it did get a lit­tle over­whelm­ing but I am very happy of the out­come none­the­less,” shared Rin­sch, who signed on to do the project way back in 2009.

As a re­sult, the film’s bud­get rose to more than US$200mil (RM620mil) and the re­lease date was pushed not once but twice from its orig­i­nal in Novem­ber 2012 (later to Fe­bru­ary 2013, then De­cem­ber 2013). Re­ports of reshoots, changes in script and ad­di­tional scenes de­manded by the stu­dio Uni­ver­sal – es­pe­cially when it came to Reeves’ un­nec­es­sary ro­man­tic plot – were also plenty.

“Yes they were many prob­lems, but I just had to deal with them; in the end, things were fine. Th­ese are chal­lenges all film­mak­ers face. As long as you don’t let them get you down or lose your fo­cus then you’re okay,” said Rin­sch.

In the film, Reeves plays a “half-breed” fighter named Kai who was saved by Lord Asano Naganori (played by Min Tanaka) of the Ako re­gion when he was a run­away child. Over the years, he starts to form a spe­cial bond with Asano’s only child Mika (Ko Shibasaki), while ev­ery­one else treats him like a slave.

One day, the shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Ta­gawa) ar­rives at Ako for a celebration. Along with him came Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), a shogu­nate of­fi­cial from a neigh­bour­ing re­gion and his army. In a de­vi­ous plot to ex­pand his ter­ri­tory and power, Kira tells his sorcer­ess co­hort (Rinko Kikuchi) to get rid of Asano. Us­ing her pow­ers, she man­ages to en­chant Asano into draw­ing a sword at Kira, which is an act of crime and pun­ish­able by death.

Asano is sen­tenced by the shogun to com­mit sep­puku (hon­ourable sui­cide), and his land and peo­ple are placed un­der Kira’s rule. Asano’s samurai are stripped of their ti­tles and live as out­casts as they are now ronin, or mas­ter­less. While their leader, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), is placed un­der ar­rest and tor­tured by Kira’s men, Kai is cap­tured and sold to for­eign­ers at the docks.

A year passes and Oishi is re­leased from the dun­geon. He heads home to re­cu­per­ate and

also to plan his re­venge, this time with his teenage son Chikara (Jin Akan­ishi), who man­ages to round up the other sur­viv­ing ronin. In or­der to get things done right by their mas­ter, Oishi in­cludes Kai in the group, bring­ing the num­ber of ronin to 47. As they think of ways to avenge the un­timely death of their mas­ter, the ronin must also face the chal­lenge of be­ing hunted by the sorcer­ess.

“It is dif­fer­ent from what we are used to hear­ing or read­ing but the es­sen­tial parts of the story is there. The soul and spirit of the samurai are clearly shown in the story, and that’s what is im­por­tant,” ex­plained Sanada, 53. His char­ac­ter, Oishi, is one that he has been fa­mil­iar with since young.

“My first ex­pe­ri­ence of the 47 ronin was when I was eight or nine years old. I saw it on a tele­vi­sion show and my first im­pres­sion was that it was so big! Af­ter that, I saw the char­ac­ter of Oishi a lot in the­atre, film and tele­vi­sion. I was a child ac­tor and ev­ery week as I watched the pro­gramme, I kept think­ing to my­self that I have to play this role in the fu­ture,” Sanada re­vealed.

For Reeves, 49, play­ing a fic­tional char­ac­ter in a story that is very well known and part of Ja­pan’s his­tory was some­thing new and ex­cit­ing. “I think of him as an out­sider who yearns to be ac­cepted, like an im­mi­grant. He is hon­ourable and a man of na­ture, which helps ground him.

“Look­ing at the big­ger pic­ture, I ba­si­cally tried to fa­mil­iarise my­self with the source ma­te­rial and think­ing about my char­ac­ter’s place in the story. I al­ways thought the tale of the out­sider and th­ese ronin be­com­ing samurai out­siders was uni­ver­sal be­cause all cities and towns and places have th­ese kinds of events and in­te­gra­tion prob­lems that hap­pen.

“I tried to get in touch with who Kai is and how this af­fected him. I wanted my char­ac­ter to have a dig­nity and re­spect to­wards the world around him and oth­ers. I also wanted him to be ca­pa­ble, to be a hunter and a tracker that is con­nected to na­ture,” he said.

Kikuchi, 32, whose sorcer­ess char­ac­ter morphs into sev­eral dif­fer­ent things (most no­tably, a fe­ro­cious dragon) in the movie said that she did not have to train much to play her char­ac­ter.

“My fight scenes were mostly CGI so I didn’t have to do them my­self. But I had to wear (dif­fer­ent­coloured) con­tact lenses the whole time and I didn’t like that. Also, my obi (ki­mono belt) was so tight!” she said. Shibasaki also shared the same com­plaints. “I mostly wore th­ese mod­ern-look­ing ki­monos but they were very dif­fi­cult to move around in as they were also heavy. How­ever, that was ac­tu­ally a good thing be­cause I had to walk a bit slowly like the women used to walk in those days, and be a lot more de­mure!” said 32-year-old Shibasaki. 47 Ronin is her first English-speak­ing movie. As for Akan­ishi, learn­ing how to ride horses proved to be a big chal­lenge for him. “I was fine with the sword fight­ing and the rest of the phys­i­cal train­ing, but horse rid­ing was some­thing else!” said Akan­ishi, 29, a for­mer mem­ber of a J-pop band called KAT-TUN. 47 Ronin is his first fea­ture-length film.

The 40-year-old Asano, mean­while, said that this was his first time act­ing in a film that por­trays Ja­pan’s his­tory.

“My grand­mother used to tell me the story of the ronin. I used to imag­ine my­self play­ing Lord Asano one day be­cause we share the same last name,” he said.

Sanada re­called the day he met Reeves. “He was in the mid­dle of train­ing and was drenched in sweat but he came over to shake my hands and wel­come me. From that day I knew we would work well to­gether. Through our train­ing and film­ing ses­sions we de­vel­oped a friend­ship and I am grate­ful for that. Even though he is a big star, he is a very pos­i­tive per­son. He’s also a lit­tle shy, very hum­ble and a lit­tle re­served... he’s ‘nor­mal’!

“He was also very good to the other ac­tors and was al­ways gen­tle in giv­ing ad­vice or help. It was im­por­tant for him that ev­ery­one had fun on the set.”

Reeves also only had kind words to of­fer on his Ja­panese cast­mates. “I am hon­oured to share the stage and fight with Hiroyuki as he is such a high­end fighter and a gen­tle­man, as well as a won­der­ful teacher. We es­tab­lished a good re­la­tion­ship with one another, which helped a lot in build­ing a re­la­tion­ship for Kai and Oishi in the film.

“The truth is that ev­ery­one was so ex­cited about this story and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the world that Carl Rin­sch was cre­at­ing. We all got along very well and felt we were a part of some­thing spe­cial.”

47 Ronin opens in cine­mas na­tion­wide to­day. Go to www.thes­tar.com.my/Life­style/ En­ter­tain­ment to watch Star2’s ex­clu­sive video in­ter­views with the film’s cast and di­rec­tor.

Fic­tional his­tory: The ronin, led by Oishi (hiroyuki Sanada, cen­tre) in the movie 47ronin which in­ter­twines fic­tional char­ac­ters with story arcs that were cre­ated to give it a hol­ly­wood twist.

The cast at the pre­miere (from left) Jin akan­ishi, Ko Shibasaki, hiroyuki Sanada, Keanu reeves, Tadanobu asano, rinko Kikuchi and di­rec­tor carl rin­sch.

reeves and Sanada have a deep re­spect for one another af­ter work­ing on 47ronin.

Lord Kira (Tadanobu asano) is a de­ceit­ful man drunk on power.

di­rec­tor carl rin­sch on set with ac­tors reeves and Sanada.

rinko Kikuchi plays a sorcerer who will not think twice of killing off her mas­ter’s com­pe­ti­tion.

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