47 Ronin becomes the final financial disaster of 2013, schizophrenic mess of a picture that manages to be offensive on several levels while not having the simple decency to be entertaining (either good or bad) and sits mired in the muck of mediocrity. An untested director was suddenly given stacks of cash to make a big budget effects movie, and quickly things fell apart. After the studio stepped in, things somehow got more confusing. In the end, the only people happy are people who get happy when dumb things happen.
The 47 Ronin is a classic tale of true Japanese history that has enough events going on that a straight adaptation would easily work as a mainstream film, and has before. In fact, the 47 Ronin has be adapted so often there is even a term for genre that is the various adaptations of the work – Chushingura. Due to censorship laws, the original plays featured altered names and events, and some retellings are stylized adaptations that mix myth and history. A 300-style adaptation is not out of the bounds of accepted reality, and I do not fault the film for trying that angle, it could have been interesting had it been applied correctly. Dragons, strange beasts, golems, witches, bird people, ogres, and magic swords are elements of many successful films. But it is not to be.
Reeves plays a half-Japanese half-British character who is raised by the Lord Asano, Kai is entirely made up and shoehorned into the story. From the narrative it’s clear Reeves wasn’t the original star and has had scenes added on, while Hiroyuki Sanada’s character Oishi is either ignored or suddenly the focus during random scenes. That disrupts an already cluttered tale simplified down for mainstream audiences, gives no characters enough development to give them dramatic weight, and many things simply happen for reasons never explained. The official story is new director Carl Rinsch originally had even less of Keanu Reeves, and was forced to do reshoots to beef of the role. The hints of studio interference are obvious – Reeves’ Kai suddenly had a love interest (the Princess Mika), was inserted into the final battle fighting a dragon (more on this in a bit), and spends a lot of the running time looking at other events.