MOVIE REVIEW: '47 Ronin' an uneven mix of samurai swordplay and CGI creatures

by Rafer Guzman, Newsday - Updated: December 26, 2013 at 5:33 pm • Published: December 26, 2013 | 9:25 am 0

Starring Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikushi, Hiroyuki Sanada; directed by Carl Rinsch; 119 minutes; PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic elements; C

A Japanese legend with roots in reality, the tale of the 47 ronin has been adapted into just about every medium imaginable, from ballet to graphic novels. Now Keanu Reeves stars in "47 Ronin," an Americanized, or perhaps internationalized version, of the treasured Japanese tale.

It's the story of Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), leader of a group of samurai living in peace under their master, Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). But when Asano is killed by Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and his nameless witch (Rinko Kikuchi), the samurai become masterless ronin scattered throughout the countryside. To regain their honor and avenge their master, they must kill Kira, even though it may mean their own death.

Reeves is an add-on to the story, a half-breed who was raised by demons. He is mistreated, Cinderella-style, by the samurai, until the now-masterless Oishi needs his help. Slowly but surely, he earns the soldiers' respect.

"47 Ronin" can be a hoot, with some zippy battles staged by director Carl Rinsch, and a script by several writers that works better than expected. But what's most impressive about "47 Ronin" - its strict adherence to the ancient Japanese honor code of bushido - is also what finally drags it down. The themes of honor and death that run through the movie may not instinctively resonate with American audiences. "47 Ronin" would have been more fun if it kept swinging its sword instead of falling on it.

Rafer Guzman, Newsday

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