47 Ronin masters its samurai onto 3D Blu-ray with an edition that provides solid picture and sound for an intermittently entertaining movie. The film is a loose adaptation of the traditional Japanese story, retooled to bring in Keanu Reeves as a half-breed addition to the clan, and enhanced with some fantasy elements. The result is a beautifully shot spectacle that sadly falls short on the basics of writing and directing. Some of the supporting cast are excellent – particularly Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi. The 3D version, converted in post-production, provides a surprising amount of pop-out effects and several scenes of deep dimensionality. As a hybrid of Western and Eastern storytelling, and as a hybrid of 2D and 3D design, this is a fascinating exercise. It’s a shame that the underlying movie isn’t stronger.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC, 1080P/MVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DTS, French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 59 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/01/2014
47 Ronin is a real head-scratcher, in terms of trying to understand how a production could unfold in this manner and how the results could end up so far from the filmmakers’ intentions. The basic story of the movie is a retelling of the traditional Japanese saga of the Chushingura. More detail can be found in the next paragraph, but the short version is that this is a Japanese vengeance drama, based on real events that happened in 18th century feudal Japan. Writer Chris Morgan (writer of the Fast & Furious movies since the third installment) clearly wanted to craft a new take on this story, incorporating elements of anime and fantasy into the narrative. British commercial director Carl Rinsch was brought in on the strength of his visual talents – in much the same way that Ridley Scott began a film career in the 1970s after a successful run of commercials before that time. It seems clear that both Morgan and Rinsch were interested in a formula that would appeal to an international audience, particularly an American one, while maintaining the Japanese interest in the subject that had previously seen the story told onscreen multiple times in Japan. To this end, Keanu Reeves was brought in to play Kai, a Caucasian lead role, as a half-breed man who fights for acceptance among the samurai. A strong Japanese cast was assembled around Reeves, to ground the story as much as possible. Much of the production was filmed in 2011 in Hungary, with some shooting in England and a visit to Japan at the end of the initial shoot. The movie was intended to be released in late 2012, but wound up being pushed back a full year to allow for what appear to have been significant reshoots, mostly to emphasize the role of Kai in the story and to really work the CGI and 3D effects. The movie was finally released in December 2013 and quickly bombed. Western audiences did not know what to make out of the material, and Japanese audiences rejected this new version of a story they had already seen told in better ways by Japanese filmmakers.
The Production Rating: 2.5/5
Watching the movie now, it’s an undeniably beautiful film. The visuals and the 3D conversion are breathtaking at times. There are a few performances that resonate, particularly Hiroyuki Sanada as the lead samurai Oishi, and Rinko Kikuchi as a convincingly dangerous witch. Unfortunately, the story is simply too scattered and the characters lack any depth. Some of the big action moments are well-orchestrated but others are so frantic that they are almost impossible to follow. The big fantasy sequences are beautiful to see, but make very little sense in the context of the story. The internal logic of the story is also lacking – some of the events require the viewer to completely disregard common sense, to the point that the overall story crumbles. As a result of this, it’s difficult to recommend this title even for rental.
SPOILERS HERE: The Chushingura is a traditional Japanese story, based on real events that happened in feudal Japan in the early 1700s. The basic events of this story are that in the region of Ako, feudal lord Asano was provoked to attack a visiting official named Kira, and was then compelled to commit ritual suicide for his crime. His 47 samurai were declared ronin (or simply, masterless samurai without honor) and were forbidden to take vengeance on Kira for having provoked the situation in the first place. The 47 ronin then proceeded to take vengeance anyway, killing Kira, and then committing seppuku themselves with the approval of the Shogun, thus dying with honor as samurai rather than being executed as criminals. This story has been told countless times in Japan, and will likely be retold countless times in the future.
MORE SPOILERS: For the 2013 movie, Chris Morgan and Carl Rinsch clearly decided to add several elements to the mix, generating a lot of visual spectacle and what they hoped would be an international appeal. So they crafted a character for Keanu Reeves – Kai, a half-breed outcast living under Asano’s rule who possesses both physical and magical talents. The new adaptation goes farther – saying that Kai is secretly in love with Asano’s daughter, thus adding a romantic element to the story. These changes are significant, but it’s the addition of fantasy elements that really transforms the experience. The new telling of the story begins with the samurai hunting a great fantasy beast on Asano’s land, which provides for a thrilling opening, but not one that makes much sense. We also see a mysterious white fox with sinister eyes watching the hunt – and this turns out to be Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi), a powerful witch who is working with Kira to destroy Asano and steal his land. In the context of this movie, Asano’s attack on Kira is actually provoked by Mizuki, who bewitches Asano into thinking his daughter is being attacked by Kira. Asano’s ritual suicide then follows, as does the dishonoring of Asano’s 46 samurai, who are forbidden from seeking revenge. Asano’s daughter is then promised by the shogun to Kira as a way to make the peace, with the girl being allowed a year to mourn the death of her father before the wedding.
YET MORE SPOILERS: This is the point where the story starts to really come unglued. We are shown that Kira has Oishi, who had been the lead samurai for Asano, thrown into a pit, and Kai sold into slavery elsewhere. But somehow, within days of the big wedding, Kira’s men inexplicably release Oishi, who predictably goes looking for Kai and his men so they can seek revenge. Without Kira knowing it, Oishi is able to pull all of his men together and bring Kai back from what looks like a UFC match with a large, unhappy creature. Together, Oishi’s men all sign a pact to take their revenge, with their number now at 47, including Kai and Oishi’s son. Kai takes the ronin to the Tengu forest where the magical creatures who raised him test the ronin and then provide them with swords for their campaign. We are then shown that Mizuki has figured out what the ronin are up to, and she ambushes most of them in a fiery attack that theoretically should have killed Oishi, Kai and everyone else present. Except that somehow the heroes escape without Mizuki knowing anything about it! This is what I mean by a crumbling of story logic. We are asked to accept that Mizuki would simply assume that she had killed all her targets and would somehow miss the fact that they were all walking away. The movie does give us one token death from this battle, but it’s a minor character. The movie then asks us to believe that Oishi’s men could somehow infiltrate Kira’s compound with a troupe of travelling performers, and that nobody would recognize Oishi, Kai or any of the others as they do so. (Keep in mind that they just let Oishi out of his cell a few days earlier…)
EVEN MORE SPOILERS: A huge battle erupts in the compound, much of which is thrilling to see. Oishi himself engages Kira in a battle that starts out in traditional terms but quickly degenerates into a no-holds-barred brawl. Kai engages Mizuki in a magical battle where Mizuki takes the form of a dragon and the two fly around the room in combat before the inevitable ending. In the aftermath of the campaign, as in the original story, the shogun recognizes the ronin as samurai and allows them to commit ritual suicide rather than be executed. As one interesting change from the story, the shogun exempts Oishi’s son, to allow his bloodline to continue. The ending that follows is beautiful in the visuals but an extreme downer for western audiences, given that there’s no way for the heroes to come out of this alive. Looking at the additional material on the disc, it’s clear that Carl Rinsch did shoot coverage of the samurai dying, but for the final cut, he removed everything but the first moments of the scene and a few close-ups.
FINAL SPOILERS: What we have here is a mixed bag. Some of the material is quite beautiful to behold. Some of it is thrilling. Unfortunately, the additions to the story render the tale unpalatable to a Japanese audience, while the basic elements of the story are so specific that they don’t appeal to a Western audience. The addition of Keanu Reeves to the story is baffling in and of itself. So it’s no real surprise that the movie didn’t take off at the box office. This feels like an idea that sounded great in theory but didn’t work out in execution.
47 Ronin was released on 3D Blu-ray, 2D Blu-ray and DVD on April 1. The 2D Blu-ray holds the movie in a solid high definition transfer, and includes a few special features, including a few deleted scenes and four short featurettes. The 3D Blu-ray has the movie in occasionally dynamic 3D, along with all the extras from the 2D Blu-ray. The special materials are presented with MVC encoding but are really in 2D. The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD edition, and instructions for obtaining a digital or Ultraviolet copy of the movie.
47 Ronin is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p MVC encode (@ an average 22/13 mbps) that provides some great dimensionality in many vista shots, and several pop-out moments during the big action sequences. The 3D doesn’t help as much when the action gets really frenetic, but when it’s given a moment to establish itself, it looks extremely good. One great example of this involves Mizuki dropping a deadly spider directly toward the camera in an early scene. In both 2D and 3D, the location photography and CGI look quite good, although there are a few shots here and there where it is clear we’re looking at a complete CGI build. At other times, the CGI seamlessly blends in background buildings and scenery.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: 4/5
47 Ronin gets an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (@ an average 3.2 mbps, going up to 4.6 mbps during the big action beats), which provides robust sound and as much atmospheric sound as can be imagined. The score gets a good workout in the surround channels, and the subwoofer is kept active between the score and multiple heavy hits onscreen. Both the 2D and 3D Blu-rays have the same sound mix, obviously. Spanish and French DTS 5.1 mixes are also included on the discs, as is an English DVS track.
Audio Rating: 5/5
47 Ronin includes a surprisingly small number of special features for a movie of this budget and scope. All we get are a few deleted scenes and 4 short EPK featurettes. The 3D Blu-ray packaging includes the 2D Blu-ray, the DVD edition and instructions for obtaining a digital or Ultraviolet copy.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
All of the special features are available both the 3D Blu-ray and 2D Blu-ray discs. The special features are presented in MVC encoding on the 3D Blu-ray but they are not actually presented in 3D. The DVD edition includes just the deleted scenes and the first featurette.
Deleted Scenes – (7:45 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – Four deleted scenes are presented here, consisting of additional story beats that were not necessary for the completed movie. One is an extension of Oishi’s journey to the Dutch slavers to rescue Kai, and it’s actually an interesting back-and-forth between Oishi and the lead slaver, but in the end, the exchange is superfluous. Another piece is a compromising moment between Mizuki and one of the samurai that again is superfluous in light of what we already have in the movie. The scenes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.
Re-Forging the Legend (6:44, 1080p) (AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This short featurette is a compilation of EPK material and interviews with Keanu Reeves, Chris Morgan and Carl Rinsch about the basic concept of the movie.
Keanu & Kai (4:00, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette is centered on Keanu Reeves and his approach to the movie and his character.
Steel Fury: The Fights of 47 Ronin (5:54, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette focuses on the stunts and fighting work done for the movie. In addition to showing the multiple rehearsals and fight sequences, the featurette spends some time with Neil Fingleton, a 7’7” athlete who appears in costume in the movie as two different bad guys who fight Kai at different points during the movie. He’s both the giant “Lovecraftian Samurai” and the live action model for the pit fighter that Kai battles in the Dutch slave colony. The movie’s stunt coordinator ruefully notes that Fingleton’s giant size scrambled the choreography of the fights that they had pre-rehearsed, given the longer arm length and body size. Reeves notes that Fingleton gently reminded him to hit his choreography correctly to avoid getting clobbered…
Myths, Magic & Monsters: The FX of 47 Ronin (7:35, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – The final featurette covers the CGI work done to transform Budapest and England into feudal Japan. Some of the work involves the replacement of fighters within scenes, such as the pit fight between Kai and the creature in the Dutch slave camp. Other work involves literally adding in traditional Japanese buildings into otherwise empty landscapes.
DVD Edition – Included in the Blu-ray packaging is the DVD edition of this movie, which contains the movie, the deleted scenes and the first featurette, “Re-Forging the Legend”. It presents the movie in standard definition anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix (@ 448 kbps), as well as 5.1 mixes in Spanish and French and the DVS track. The DVD also contains a “Previews” menu, with connections to trailers for Oblivion, Battleship, Jurassic Park Trilogy, Van Helsing, Battlestar Galactica, The Bourne Legacy and The Mummy
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
The movie and special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, including a complete chapter menu.
47 Ronin is an intermittently entertaining movie that sadly fails to work either as a full retelling of the traditional Japanese story or as a new interpretation. It’s a beautiful movie to watch, but the underlying story makes little sense, and the injection of elements like Keanu Reeves’ character leaves the movie as neither fish nor fowl. There are some nice 3D effects to be seen here, and some great location photography and CGI. The Blu-ray is certainly well-appointed in a technical sense. It’s unfortunate that the movie itself is simply not that effective.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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