47 Ronin

47 Ronin was not what I expected. I sat down and braced myself for a completely plotless swords-and-sorcery romp with a bit of Asian flair.  What I got was a retelling of the story of the Forty-seven Ronin.

I'm happy with that.

I'm also happy with the fact that Keanu Reeves is not our protagonist. That role is taken on by Hiroyuki Sanada, who totally delivers the goods.

This movie poster is weird. Not pictured:

  • The protagonist
  • The antagonist
  • The love interest
  • The faces of any of the 47 ronin


  • The antagonist's witch
  • The magical half-breed, who functions kind of like Merlin in a story about Arthur
  • The antagonist's metal-masked champion who doesn't actually do very much besides be taller than everyone else
  • A burning town made out of ships, but which we don't see burn in the film
  • A tattooed guy, from the town made out of ships, and who functions an a scary doorman
  • A silhouette which is probably Ôishi, our protagonist, but I'm not counting that as picturing him because honestly, you wouldn't know this until after you saw the film.

So the poster is misleading and the trailers are misleading but for me the film didn't suffer at all for that. The poster and the trailers put me in the seat, and then contrary to my expectations I was told a story that was far truer to Japanese culture than American audiences have any reason to expect right now.

It's a powerful story. It didn't need Keanu Reeves or the pirate town, or even the magical stuff to work, but it probably needed those things in order to get greenlit, so I'll take it. 47 Ronin comes in at #13 for me this year, crossing the Threshold of Awesome for good use of effects, not white-washing anything, and not flinching at the end.