Shortly after my first viewing of The Loyal 47 Ronin, or Chushingura as it is sometimes called, I was visited by a friend who upon entry immediately noticed the copy of the film displayed on my coffee table. With an excited squeak, my friend told me what a joy it was to be able to see that particular version of this story, of which there have been many. After recounting his own experience, he asked for my own opinion of which I reluctantly gave a half-assed response favorable to the film. As his eyebrow rose I told him that I must be a racist Caucasian bastard because I couldn't tell any of the characters apart, thus making the film difficult to watch.
Neither could he.
The heavens parted and a ray of holy light shone down into my apartment, and I was cured. No longer would I hang my head in silent shame worried judgment was just around the corner because I was now free from this solitary guilt. Like two junkies sharing dirty needles, I no longer carried this virus alone.
That said, it takes a special person to enjoy The Loyal 47 Ronin. Not special like The Other Sister special, but a patient niche audience willing to invest time into this excellent piece of cinema. This will not be the average popcorn shoveler's cup of tea. This film takes patience. Pure. Honest. Patience.
So now you're probably reminding yourself that you're just the average American, who for whatever reason is interested in this film, and as the average American you have no knowledge about the culture that existed in the nearly 700 years of Feudalism that controlled Japan in the film's setting. For the solution to this problem, you can do one of two things. The first is to proudly open your mouth and prepare your uvula for Satan's flaming penis while waiting for the Keanu Reeves remake or enjoy the luxury of the second option which is to learn to read, start the movie, and enjoy the handy white subtitles that litter the top of the screen. These subtitles act as a Japanese culture cliff notes making even the least cultured person into a master in the nearly three hours it takes to watch this tale of revenge. Easy enough, right? Agree with me. It makes you more attractive.
For those of you not familiar with this story because you didn't grow up in Japan, The 47 Ronin is a story about a Japanese Lord who attacks another court official, who looks strangely like a squinting William Shatner, and is sentenced to commit seppuku, a cruel and bloody suicide. Though his actions were partially justified, the court ruled that his impulsive behavior conclude with a sword in his stomach. Having no master to serve under, all his servants are now ronin, a masterless samurai, with no place to call their home. The logical next step is to recreate Jonestown a few hundred years early, and conclude this movie two hours and fifteen minutes or so ahead of schedule. After a long scene where everyone's hand is gripping their sword hilt, they change their mind like all the fickle women I've ever asked on a date.
There is no Kool-Aid in Japan, only katanas. Death is not so simple for these men, which is cool because the will they/won't they moments were starting to turn into an episode of Dawson's Creek, except instead of choosing between Pacy and Dawson, it was life and killing yourself with a sword.
After that comes two hours of revenge plotting.
The film's strength rested on the visual elegance of both the costume designer and the cinematographer. The costumes were brilliant and the camera work was more so. Everything about this film was visually stunning... except the fight choreography.
Let's face it. Even my High School Drama Club had better choreographers than the autistic child who directed the action of this film. Actually, I think a piece of driftwood could choreograph fight scenes better than this jackass. But you know what? I stand firm in my belief that The Loyal 47 Ronin, despite it's flaws, was unexpectedly great. The fantastic visual prowess of the film-making(ahem. minus the fight scenes) are absolutely delightful. The story is classic, even if you're an American pig-dog like me. If you're the niche audience this film deserves, I ask that you give it a chance. If you're not the niche audience this film deserves, I dare you to watch it anyway.
That's right. I just dared you. So get to it fuckers.
-Ryan Freaking Miller!
Overall Score 3.5/5