Going with my decision to write up movie reviews for science fiction and fantasy movies, I feel I must review 47 Ronin. That said, while I enjoyed the movie, I feel a little conflicted. On the one hand, it was enjoyable, in and of itself (a popcorn movie, but fun), in a lot of ways I feel it didn’t do the original story justice. While I’m not extremely knowledgable about it, I do have at least a passing familiarity with the history as well as the original fictionalization: the Chushingura. The movie 47 Ronin is loosely based upon actual events that occured in the early 1700’s. Notice, I said loosely, because in the original story, there is no halfbreed, trolls, monsters, or evil witches.
These things, I feel, were added to make the movie more flashy, and less of a historical drama. That kind of thing can draw audiences, but the story of the Chushingura is one that, in many ways, can stand by itself without flash (ie, lots of special effects, huge explosions and weird pirate towns).
In 47 Ronin, they went for the flash and, in many ways, they succeeded. It is a fun movie, with lots of amazing scenes. There were a few times where I felt like they did a scene just to give it the feeling of a comic book, much like the movie 300. 47 Ronin has a solid story which sticks (mostly) to the original, other than the prementioned additions. The reasons for those additions are extreme at times, but looking at them from the perspective of a writer, I can see why they made those additions, even if I don’t agree with them. The additions, at least, are ones which are internally consistant and maintain the flow of the story.
The movie doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t try for a happy ending, which I appreciate. Though only lightly explained in the movie, the dedication and loyalty of the samurai is there to be seen. Though I wish there were more characterization of them as individuals, as a whole, they come across as men who follow an iron-bound code of honor in an imperfect world… and they know that sometimes the right decisions are ones which will require sacrifices. Their unflinching focus on duty that forced them to make those sacrifices is what makes the story so powerful. Personally, I think it is a story that resonates very well with western cultures, the draw of duty, the necessity of revenge, and the idea of self sacrifice.
The movie captures this, often with small, yet poignant, scenes. Sometimes those scenes are between the action and sometimes they are right in the middle of it all. All in all, it was an enjoyable movie with several underlying themes which I appreciated, and it sparked an interesting discussion on the way home from the theater.