I'm a sucker for anything to do with Keanu Reeves. It's not so much that he's incredibly handsome and easy on the eyes--well, okay, I admit that's a large part of what attracts me to him--but there's something about his demeanor and bearing that draws me as well. I'm not talking about the adolescent Keanu of "Bill and Ted" etc. but the adult Keanu. He's the ideal tall, dark, handsome, strong silent type. And I'm a sucker for that.
So I was delighted to hear that Keanu just starred in a new movie called "47 Ronin" based on popular Japanese history/folklore. And I was even more delighted to get the chance to review this movie for you.
"47 Ronin" is, in a word, spectacular. And I mean that in a "spectacle" kind of way. The scenery is simply breathtaking. Now, I'm sure a lot of it is either CGI or green screen, but it works. It looks so authentic it makes me want to book a trip to visit this exotic yet cultured land. Happily there is a lot to see in this movie, so if you're like me and love a good adventure in a beautiful location, "47 Ronin" might just fit the bill for you too.
The basic story, based on historical events, is how a treacherous rival warlord betrays a ruler and takes command of his country--and his beautiful daughter into the bargain--all with the approval and blessing of the Japanese Shogun, the "emperor" of the whole land as it were. The betrayed ruler's faithful samurai warriors are then banished from the territory on pain of death, and the lovely orphaned daughter is set to become the rival warlord's wife.
But she's in love with a half-breed found in the wilderness and taken into the family as a young boy, and this boy has grown into a warrior who has now been banished along with the family troop of samurai. All good stories have at least some romance, right? Keanu Reeves plays Kai, the half-breed boy taken in by the royal family, and actress Ko Shibasaki plays Mika, the ex-ruler's daughter and Kai's forbidden love since childhood.
Since the Shogun banished all the former samurai on pain of death, when the former military leader of the samurai decides that honor demands retribution for his ruler's dishonorable death, all those who were once under his command are reunited in the cause, even though they all know that by doing so they have sealed their own fate. Only death awaits them, win or lose.
How they reunite, put aside their differences with the half-breed Kai (who has shown himself to be more than capable, and just as much a "samurai" as any of them), seek and find swords for battle, and eventually fight the wicked rival warlord makes for a wonderful and nail-biting journey. While there is love and violence, you'll be glad to know none of it is gratuitous or particularly graphic. No blood and gore (even beheadings are largely only suggested, not shown graphically) and no sex. You could watch this with your children--although it is rated PG-13 "for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements"). Parents, use your own discretion. This movie is a lot more suitable for younger audiences than most prime time network TV shows. And they just might learn something about Japanese history and honor into the bargain.
The only thing about the movie I found a little offputting was the fantasy element. Granted, I'm no scholar of historical Japanese legends, and the story of the original "47 Ronin" may well include myth, magic, and monsters. But I would have been perfectly happy with the simple historical re-enactment of the folklore without the fantastical additions. However, Japanese culture is steeped in legends of mythical, extraordinary creatures, so I guess it really isn't much of a stretch to include some of them in this film. Got to keep the audience's attention somehow, right? And since the kindly ruler was betrayed because he was bewitched by the rival warlord's staff sorceress, the whole thing moves from "history" to "legend", which kind of gives the movie the feel of an adventure or role-playing game at times. But hey, I'm sure many viewers will connect with that in the best way, so there really is something for everyone with this movie.
If you're looking for more fact than myth, you might be a trifle disappointed. But if you're just looking for a romping adventure where the good guys actually win in the end, you'll probably enjoy "47 Ronin". So grab a copy when the Blu-ray™ 3D and Blu-ray™ Combo Packs, DVD, including UltraViolet™ and On Demand hit shelves on April 1, 2014 (from Universal Studios Home Entertainment), pop some popcorn, and settle down for a trip through an exotic culture and place that will certainly make you forget the everyday world...at least for a couple of hours.
And Keanu? Well, I'm sure you are aware of how he gets panned so often for his acting being described as "wooden". But when Keanu performs as characters such as the half-breed Kai, his acting persona moves from "wooden" to "stoic"--and very effectively. His whole demeanor fits right in with an Oriental flavor. Any other non-Oriental actor would have overplayed the role, thus destroying credibility. Keanu does it just right. In fact, it's so low-key I almost wish there were more for him to do in this movie, but the story itself isn't about Keanu, even though he's got top billing on the film. The main thrust is how the exiled leader of the samurai (played with stunning conviction by actor Hiroyuki Sanada) regains his own honor and avenges his wronged ruler. So put aside your Keanu prejudices (if you have any) and just enjoy the movie. I certainly enjoyed it!