Sunday, December 14, 2014

Movie Review - 47 Ronin (2013)

I can't say I'm all that big a fan of Keanu Reeves.  In fact, I think he's pretty good as a stoner, kind of walking around half-dazed and confused most of the time like he was in Bill and Ted's excellent adventure.  I'm not really sure where he picked up his interest in Martial arts films, or maybe he's just spent too long in the Matrix, I don't know.

47 Ronin (2013) is an old Japanese story about some masterless Samurai during a period in Japanese history when they had a Shogun running the country.  This take on the tale of the 47 Ronin (there have been a number of movies made about this legend over the years, none of which I have seen besides this one) begins with Kai, a young boy running away from something.  Kai is a half-breed, a mixed white and japanese boy, and if there's one thing the japanese do not like, it is anyone of mixed race (personally I think people of mixed races seem more attractive than most, but that's just my opinion).  Kai is found by a hunting party of Lord Asano, the Lord of the province where Kai ends up, and instead of killing Kai outright, Lord Asano takes him in.  As the years go by, Kai and Lord Asano's daughter form a bond of love, and then, one day, the Shogun visits.  Aside from hosting a visit from the Shogun, Lord Asano is also hosting a visit from a neighboring Lord, Lord Kira.  Lord Kira (the villain, obviously) employs a witch to subvert Lord Asano's mind and make Asano attempt to strike Kira in the presence of the Shogun, an act punishable by death.  Fortunately, the Shogun allows Lord Asano to commit seppuku (ritual disembowelment), and thus retain his honor.  However, his most loyal Samurai are cast out by the Shogun, and become Ronin.  Lord Kira does his best to break the will of Kai by taking Asano's daughter as wife, and leaves the leader of the Samurai, Oishi, in a hole for a year.  Just before Lord Kira is to marry the unwilling daughter of Lord Asano, Oishi and Kai team up with the remaining 45 Ronin and strike back at Lord Kira, intending to avenge the death of their lord at all costs!

I've been a huge fan of ancient Japanese culture for years.  I was going to say I was a big fan of japanese culture in general, but I can't fathom some of their idiosyncrasies, like for instance, used panty vending machines?  Really?  I don't get it.  The upskirt pic thing, totally.  That I get.  The used panty vending machines...  nope.  So, I'm restricting my interest in japan to their ancient past, when they had shoguns and ninjas and samural wandering the lands, just waiting for someone to impugn their honor so they could kill somebody.  Maybe they were just really cranky from having to wear dresses all the time.  Who knows?

The acting in this movie was pretty decent, if you exclude Keanu Reeves.  Basically, this movie takes the really cool Japanese legend of some guys who would rather die than let a crime go unpunished, and adds Keanu reeves, witches and monsters into the mix.  If you take out Keanu, and leave the monsters and the witch, this movie is actually pretty kick-ass.  The special effects were good, the swordplay was decent, and the veteran asian acting cast was superb.  The only guy I knew for sure was Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as the Shogun, who has been acting as the asian bad guy in movies since the 80's, but many of the other faces were recognizable, even if I couldn't pronounce their names correctly to save my life.  The only other Japanese actor I can pick out of the cast is Hiroyuki Sanada, who appeared in Helix (that I watched earlier this year).  At this point, I would beg forgiveness for having dishonored the rest of the cast's acting skill by not remembering their names, but seriously, they're actors, not samurai.  I think I'll be okay.

I don't recall any overt nudity, but there's some scenes between the witch and Lord Asano's daughter that almost stray into lesbian territory, and frankly, my little Samurai sword was ready to cut silk, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.  There's a few funny scenes, and the rest of the movie is pretty much a showcase for keanu's ability to act like a martial artist.  If you believe that, the movie works okay.  If you don't, then it really doesn't work as well.  Frankly, it reminds me of Tom Cruise's attempt to do something similar, when he did The Last Samurai.  If you can't believe the main character in the movie, then the whole movie just kind of falls flat, you know?  (shrugs)

I'd say, give 47 Ronin a viewing on Netflix if you have some spare time and love Japanese samurai flicks, because this movie does dip slightly into the concept of honor and duty, two things that were of paramount importance to ancient Samurai.  As a westerner, I have a hard time agreeing with the concept, but that doesn't make it any less pretty to watch.  As far as a repeat viewing goes, I don't think I need to see this one again.

In other news, I missed last week's post because I was struggling with the flu.  It is that time of year, as well as it being the Holidays.  So, just in case I don't make it next week either, Happy Holidays to everybody out there.  :-D  If you're looking for holiday favorites, Netflix has lost the rights to show Christmas Vacation this season, but ABC Family Channel is playing it every few days.  Netflix still has Kung Fu Panda Holiday, one of my new favorite holiday cartoons, so at least they have that, and Christmas with the Kranks last time I checked.  Some fun things to look out for this holiday season, if you happen to be home alone for the holidays and have some time to kill, there's a few things you might enjoy.  El Rey network has a three-day Godzilla movie (kaiju, they call it, monster movies, I guess?) marathon starting at 6 pm Xmas eve, which I will try to watch as much of as possible, barring sleep and, well, you know, Christmas and all.  Also, at 1 pm Christmas day, Cary Elwes hosts a Princess Bride marathon (I forget which channel it's on), with behind-the-scenes stories about the movie.  Personally, I find it inconceivable that Cary Elwes has the time to spend hosting anything, considering how popular he was after the Princess Bride came out, but I guess movie roles are getting harder to come by lately.

If you're looking for a good game to purchase for the holidays, I can't really recommend anything with any degree of certainty.  I have an expansion to Mount and Blade: Warband on my xmas list, Viking Conquest, I believe it's called.  Once they added gunpowder to the series (Fire and Sword), the whole thing just fell apart, because they had some pretty decent hand-to-hand combat mechanics in the game, and putting guns in just ruined everything.  Viking Conquest is for the Mount and Blade portion, so that's before the invention of gunpowder, so I'm hoping there's no guns in it.  I can't say whether it's any good or not, but I guess we'll find out.  Other than that, the gaming landscape for the pre-Christmas buying time looks pretty bleak.  I find myself returning to Minecraft just to pass the hours.  The lonely, boring hours.  And winter hasn't even got here yet.  Sheesh.

That's all for tonight.  Hope to sneak a review in next week, but if not, Merry Yuletide and Happy New Year!  :-)

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