47 Ronin (2013)
It's a Japanese story with honor and love and revenge - and Keanu Reeves. I was interested enough when this movie came out to pic up a blu-ray copy - largely because it came in 3D, but also because samurai and stuff. I watched it previously on just the normal bland old DvD format, and since the originally planned movie suffered a bit of a delay in receiving I felt that maybe this would be a good time to check out that third dimension while also plopping up an actual article on this bad boy. Grab those katana and prepare for a face full of mythological beasts, this is 47 Ronin.
As alluded to in the preamble, this thing has a lot going on in it. It isn't hard to follow in the slightest - partly due to some narration or well timed exposition lines, but also perhaps some due to my already existing interest in the mythological causing me to have already crossed paths with some of the beasties at hand. At it's core, you have both a love story and a revenge plot. As you widen your view, you get touchings into (feudal) politics and the honor of the samurai as well as some prejudice. Beyond that still we get those touches of the mystical - magic and demons, mythical beasts and shapeshifters. They all flow in and out of each other, sometimes depending solely on the character with whom you are looking at, but they don't step on each others toes.
The actors do a good job here, with varying degrees of accent on line deliveries. It's an interesting choice when a movie is set entirely in one place (such as Japan) and yet English is just the common language being spoken - interesting only in regards to the fact that a large number of the actors can easily pass off as coming straight from the Islands. See, it's pretty easy to figure out the reason they did it was this movie largely being pitched towards the English-toting audience, as this story has been done before in Japan - in fact as the movie likes to put out the tale of the forty seven ronin is actually sorta a big deal over there (at least to some extent). Still, I like learning different little tidbits from different places and cultures, so that choice of being in English helps me out while also allowing me (who maybe knows three useless sentences in a handful of non-English languages) to easily follow along with the actor's performances as far as line delivery (which we've seen is a common trend of being lost on me when watching subtitled movies - you can grasp that body language but a lot of inflections can be lost).
Of course, one would immediately assume that Keanu is the main character - what with his name headlining the box title and all - and that isn't entirely dishonest. His "half breed" character (funnily enough being used in this case to refer to his half English, half Japanese parents - not that he's actually some sort of mutant demon or something) is a large part of the main cast and plays a good part in a lot of it. That being said, his actual Samurai counterpart plays arguably just as much a part of the movie when it comes time for the plot to play out - whilst the half breed has the Romeo and Juliet love story, the samurai has the more traditional honor-bound revenge story. This leads to plenty of moments where the two are on the same path in story even though their reasons for being so are different - which leads to some concurrent actions during the final battle as we hop back and forth between the two.
Speaking of battles, there's a bunch of action scenes in this thing too, if I forgot to mention. Even the seemingly simple concept of a hunt is knocked up a few notches when they end up hunting a large mythical creature. There's a long mounted chase of the beast, complete with a big CG monster with whippy tails and large horns, with plenty of samurai getting beat up while landing a few blows - all of which boils down to a one on one clash. Speaking of one on one clashes, we get a nice solo duel between the disguised half breed and a gigantic armored foe who looks like he walked off the set of 300 from the Persian forces. I hesitate to call it a man due to reasons later on in the movie, but even then I'm not entirely sure what this bruiser should be classified as besides fearsome - even if his potential is sort of hampered a bit by only really fighting in this one scene.
Blending well into fights but leaning more heavily on the effects department, there's even a witch of sorts in this movie. Taking on many forms throughout the movie, there's quite a few moments from her that specifically seem more catered to the 3d elements of the movie - such as blowing fire at the screen or dangling a weird conjured spider from the roof. Having finally gotten my VR system to the point of working with 3d movies (so I can remove any real depth from interfering), I can say that some moments in this movie work well, and some don't. By it's nature, 3d really only works if you give it time too - which is something working against a pit-fight scene that otherwise is begging for 3d. A ball and chain weapon is being used by one of the battlers, but it moves with such a quickness that any 3d effect of it zooming at you the viewer is sort of just lost in the blur of it's movement. On the other hand, the before mentioned spider dangling or the occasional arrow or foreground scenery piece really do stand out pretty well.
Although the effects are pretty well handled and everything, the real part of this area that I enjoyed was the costumes. Sure, there was plenty of different samurai outfits, or that one huge armored bruiser I mentioned before - and I do love those things - but just across the board it's constantly keeping it fresh. Fancy gowns, performer outfits, monk robes, armored warriors and stealthy grass-suits, the list of outfits in this movie just keeps going. Each serves it's purpose of elaborating on where the character belongs - such as the ronin have more peasant-like attire than the emperor's royal guards and followers. Sometimes it's more geared towards a trait - such as the witches drive towards being alluring, leading to a few nice scenes of contrast between her and the half breed's love interest. Sometimes, it's completely over the top for the amount of time it's on screen - such as the man whose entire upper body is covered in essentially a skeleton tattoo. They all look wonderful, and some are oh so creative.
Overall, although this might not be a home run, out of the ballpark hit of a movie I still enjoyed it. It has some fun fantasy elements, and some well choreographed fights. The camerawork during some fights can get a bit more hectic than I preferred, but overall it's mostly pretty easy to follow. The outfit design is stellar, and it's nice to see those creatures getting worked in - sometimes even to the 3d effects. I'd argue that it's worth a rent, especially if you like samurai flicks of this sort, because it really isn't bad.