Sharpen your daggers, because 47 Ronin is (not) the Greatest Movie EVER!
Click on the title or the movie poster above to download our review of the film, featuring Gerald Rathkolb of AnimeWorldOrder.
Review in a Nutshell: Combine a dubious choice of subject matter, cultural appropriation / whitewashing / racebending, an overblown budget, an unnecessary 3D post-conversion treatment, numerous delays, studio interference, a novice director, deceptive marketing, and an indifferent film-going audience and you get a recipe for disaster. As a movie, 47 Ronin is bland with a few entertaining moments, but as an exercise in how not to make a movie, it is fascinating.
The first time we saw an ad for this, Tammy just about blew a gasket! She was like, “CHUSHINGARA? Starring – Keanu Reeves?!?!? Fuck that bullshit!”
Given the Inagaki movie of the story (which is not currently available on DVD) is one of Tammy’s Pantheon films, she felt especially enraged by this….
It almost sounds like you’re saying it’s a given that CG animals look fake and cartoonish? Jurassic Park, King Kong, Cloverfield, the upcoming AMAZING looking Godzilla movie, and several others have demonstrated that this isn’t remotely true. Surely you didn’t mean this, only that in THIS instance, it looks cartoonish and fake.
I’d have to re-listen to the podcast, because I’m not sure what you’re referring to James, but I think in many instances, perhaps even the majority, CG animals do look cartoonish and fake. It really all depends on the amount of work that goes into creating a life-like illusion. Jurassic Park does this with a mix of CG and really excellent puppetry and animatronics. King Kong was okay, I suppose; the Peter Jackson remake didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Neither did Cloverfield. It’s a tad premature to talk about the upcoming Godzilla movie, which hasn’t been released yet. I’d have gone with Pacific Rim instead.
Given the choice between a bad CG effect or a bad practical one, though, I’ll take the practical one 99 times out of 100.
I really have to disagree, CG creatures usually look excellent, even in lower budget horror movies, like Mimic, they can be quite effective. You’re right, I should’ve mentioned Pacific Rim, those were excellent Kaiju. I think though, that between the Godzilla encounter, the teaser that was leaked and the first trailer, that Godzilla looks both true to the Toho designs AND incredibly realistic.
Sad to say I paid full price for 3D on this one after reading Howard Taylor’s blog review claiming that the movie was halfway decent and Keanu actually had only a small role in the film. LIES I say, LIES! :shakefist:
That said, once the revenge plot actually got started I was at least moderately entertained. And I too would like to see the Japanese cut, and/or especially a director’s cut.
James, Mimic also had a lot of practical special effects to convey the illusion of the giant insects. I don’t think the film would have been half as convincing if it had relied entirely on CG. Mimic wasn’t low budget in the technical sense, either. It had a budget of $30 million.
The new Godzilla looks like a puppy to me. I’m not digging the blunt snout and blocky face.
If you really want to see an example of terrible CG, track down a Kane Hodder film called Dark Wolf. A more recent example would be Mega Piranha. You’ll see what I mean, I think.
On the statement that American movie goers are not familiar with the 47 Ronin story. That is just not so, younger Americans perhaps, but anyone who haunted the art house theaters of the 1970s-1990s is likely to have seen more than one adaptation. The most famous being Inigaki Hiroshi’s visually stunning film. Personally I prefer Kon Ichikawa’s film as showing more of a human side to the characters. For info on those and others see my recommended list on 47 Ronin films:
For a good book on the topic I highly recommend:
The Revenge of the 47 Ronin: Edo 1703
Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011
PS: There have been over 60 films of this story done in Japan from the silent era to today. Small wonder it did not do well in Japan where the main audience for such films is young women and older adults.
Gilles – I think there are anime versions of the 47 Ronin legend as well, so even many younger Americans would have some knowledge of it as well.
I think you two vastly underestimate the cultural ignorance of the American cinema-going youth. This movie was aiming for an audience that wasn’t born until the year 2000. Expecting a 14 year old to know or care about the story of the 47 Ronin seems like a grave Hollywood misstep, in my opinion.
I saw this in the theater with Gerald, so most everything I thought is covered in the show since this stuff is what we were talking about right as it was over. But just for reference:
I have been watching Japanese pop culture films, animation, etc for over 20 years, so while I’m no expert on the place or the culture, I’ve at least heard about a decent chunk of their folk tales and historical events. Yet even I, upon hearing of this movie 47 Ronin and then seeing that there were manga as well as American comics bearing the same name, was quite surprised to see that the comics I was reading had nothing to do with a Japanese lord and his half-Asian sidekick fighting the demons. Because even I, even everyone I knew, had absolutely no clue that the tale of the 47 Ronin was an actual historical event which had been romanticized time and again.
(For the record: upon reading up on it prior to seeing this film, my impressions were “this isn’t terribly interesting as a story unto itself, so I can see why so many embellishments would have to be made.”)
In light of this, I am confident when I say that there is absolutely no way that any significant percentage of the American blockbuster film-attending public have any familiarity whatsoever with the 47 Ronin. And I’m too old now to fall into the “younger Americans” category. For someone to be haunting the arthouse theaters of the 1970s, it would be more accurate to say that “a small amount of people in their late 50s/early 60s and above who are not the primary target audience of blockbuster cinema” might have some heightened awareness.
How about John Frankenheimer’s movie RONIN – wasn’t that a hit? A major thematic point in that movie (and where it gets its title) is the scene where Michael Lonsdale, who gives Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno a refuge so DeNiro can take a bullet out of himself and (briefly) convalesce, is finishing up a diorama of the 47 ronin surrounding Lord Kira’s house. He tells DeNiro the tale, which DeNiro likes right up to the seppuku part – and Lonsdale replies, “But you understand it, yes?” – thus making the point that it’s one of those tales that transcend its original culture to appeal to a global poet-warrior ethos, much as the Battle of Thermopylae does.
Tim, that’s the one example in Western film that I can think of that explicitly references the story of the 47 Ronin. It’s also from a movie that’s 16 years old, about the target age group of the audience that the studios were aiming for in this case. I doubt many teenagers have seen Ronin. There may be a few other examples, perhaps something in a terrible Frank Miller comic book somewhere, but none of those things made the sort of pop cultural impact that could justify a 175 million dollar movie budget.
I guess what I meant to say was that the 47 Ronin legend is one of those mainstays of Well-Read Manly Man Culture, Paul – though no, it’s still not nearly large enough to justify a film with that big a budget unless its intent was to spread the word!
I honestly have to wonder what the original intent of this movie was, and at what budget it could have possibly been profitable. I could see it as a balls-to-the-wall violent F/x and insane fantasy fest on the order of TOKYO GORE POLICE or VERSUS, done cheaply by a bunch of talented fans with years to work on it and a couple Mac Pros – or Robert Rodriguez, who can make $12 million look like $100 million. Of course, if Rodriguez had done it he’d have reset the story in some phantasmagoric 19th Century Mexico, cast Danny Trejo as Lord Oishi “Don Machete”, hired luchadors to play the remaining 46 ronin, and had Nicholas Cage as Maximilian I – so nobody would be complaining about its historical inaccuracy!
You know – now I’d like to see Rodriguez’s version of CHUSHINGARA….
i knew the story of the 47 ronin much longer ago than any of that, and the battle of thermopylae. the total war center
I wouldn’t argue that Robert Rodriguez can make a 12 million dollar production look like a 100 million dollar one. I wouldn’t argue that at all. I think his films accurately reflect their budget. Both Machete movies, for example, look like total shit. The Spy Kids franchise looks like it cost a collect $1.25 to make as well.
Well…. Okay, Culture-Cast-Z. I don’t agree having seen both, but what would you think looks like $100 million movie?