47 Ronin (2013)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Director: Carl Rinsch

Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki

Rating: ★★★

47 Ronin is a film which attempts to take a serious concept and liven it up with fantasy elements to appeal to a wider audience.  It is quite simply an average film, one with much potential, but ultimately I found myself slightly disappointed. The craft is great along with some moments of action, whilst everything else is rather respectable but nothing too special including the return of Keanu Reeves to the world of cinema.

Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) of Ako, a small beautiful Japanese village, is hunting in the forest with his men when they find a young boy, a half-breed between demon and human. Asano sees something special in this boy and takes him home to the castle, where he shall live alongside the samurai. Several years later, the young boy is now a man, his name is Ki (Keanu Reeves) but he’s rejected as a samurai and is labelled as “half-breed”, but his fighting skills are superior to any other, defending the village from beasts. Lord Asano invites the Shogun of Japan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) to Ako to watch a tournament; however when a witch sabotages his fighter and eventually Asano himself, the shogun demands seppuku (Suicide) on Asano to counterbalance his shameful act. Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) of Nagato is given power over Ako by the Shogun, including all the samurai and the princess. Lord Kira, evil and heartless forbids the samurai from Ako and keeps the princess for himself. The banished samurais, who are now just ronins, realise Kira’s plot and set out alongside the half-breed to seek revenge for their fallen master despite it being against the Shogun’s order.

The concept is simple but strong with the story surrounding revenge and the ronin taking back their land of Ako from Lord Kira, who plotted the bewitching. It has also been seen many times before, with an unapproved man attempting to save a village and to win the princess from an evil master. However 47 Ronin steer away from simple plots and attempt to dive into fantasy worlds and monsters to gain excitement. The idea of huge, witch crafted beasts somewhat ruin a traditional concept of samurais against shoguns and masters.  It lets down the film for me and somewhat made it hard for me to like it, especially considering my appreciation for classic Japanese film such as Seven Samurai, where in other films Ki would be a farmer or a peasant, he is a demon setting-up a mythical setting and film world. The fantasy carries on as witches, ghosts and spirits enter the film. 47 Ronin then attempts to make matters serious by making the acquisition that the story is based on real life events, something I found ridiculous.

The real action, when arriving, takes place as the ronin invade Lord Kira’s Ako, and it is very good with the scenes looking great and the attack and scene being well-thought out and executed. It then sets up two stand-off fights, which bring entertainment which is much needed as the film beforehand seems to stray at some points.

Keanu Reeves portrayal of Ki is good, however like the rest of the cast and their acting it isn’t anything special and if anything at times it felt very stereotyped and cheesy.  The film did thrive from its visuals, although the concept of beasts and witches were somewhat unneeded it is only fair to say that they looked good and the effects were brilliant. The directing was also creditable and a standout, some shots were very awe inspiring especially in the lead up to the battle, whilst the film was occasionally helped by a number of well-timed and executed scenery shots.

47 Ronin isn’t what I was expecting, and I would have hoped it took a more traditional approach towards portraying a Japanese samurai story.  The film itself looked good and the action when appearing, although somewhat less than what was needed, was great and provided good action and entertainment. The story was well shaped and the simple concept was strong, which essentially draws you in as an audience; however the twists were really unnecessary. 47 Ronin isn’t anything special at all and doesn’t deserves much praise but on the other hand it could have been a whole lot worse.

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Analysing Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai is Kurosawa’s and Japan’s classic as well as being regarded as an all-time great beyond its nation’s cinema. Part of appreciating Seven Samurai however as a film is not only admiring the quality performances, writing and directing but the hidden underlying message which it conveys and holds. Once analysed you then begin to realise that Seven Samurai is actually a well-thought and executed work of art truly and totally deserving its huge reputation.

Kurosawa’s classic conveys the hidden story of 1954 Japan, showing the battle within society between a failing and falling military which had lost power, and a rising set of civilians and peasants who were gaining power. Seven Samurai proposes the idea of traditional beliefs being replaced by modern beliefs something contemporary to 1954 Japan as a much needed change was required and put in place after a war against America which resulted in destruction, mass death and defeat produced a huge paradigm shift which saw Japan become a much more westernised country.  The farming village within Seven Samurai is used to act as a microcosm to Japan, making the important battle being about the interaction between the new arriving Samurai and the farmers; consequently this therefore makes the bandits nothing more than a plot device within the film. Throughout Seven Samurai we also see how accepting modern views and beliefs over traditional will lead to survival and better life, encouraging us to change and accept change rejecting the traditional Japanese proverb “the nail that stands up, must be hammered down”.

The most frequent message conveyed through Seven Samurai is the role of military and more so how there is no longer a place or use for a military in contemporary 1954 Japan. There are two main scenes to show this as well as two main characters. Firstly Kyuzo, the most skilled and trained samurai out of the seven, and for that reason alone he is chosen to represent the military. Japan believed how they were invincible and somewhat impossible to defeat something that is showed through Kyuzo however these are traditional beliefs so they must be abolished. Kyuzo’s death and the scene as a whole is very symbolic, getting shot with ease from a far distance shows how weak and useless Kyuzo was to his death, somewhat reflecting how weak Japan were to America’s attack. The whole concept of Kyuzo’s death tries to empathise how the military are no longer powerful and required, this is especially shown as the main objective of the film is still achieved despite and without Kyuzo. More so the character of Kikuchiyo is equally as important, a samurai who is actually a farmer’s son, he allows a bridge to be formed between the poor farmers of the village and the hired samurai. When finding out that the farmers have been hiding old samurai armour presumably taken from dead and weak soldiers, there comes an iconic and powerful scene where an angry Kikuchiyo lectures everyone about their actions. In his speech he shouts abuse at his fellow samurai stating that the farmers are only “murderous” and “cunning” due to the military shaping them that way, “And each time you fight you burn villages, you destroy the fields, you take away the food, you rape the women and enslave the men. And you kill them when they resist. You hear me – you damned samurai?!” Although he is not saying society and Japanese civilians are completely blameless, he does shift blame onto the military slightly, aiming his speech directly down the face of the camera it portrays the idea of the military not being welcome within Japan, also showing that if they are to stay there needs to be change.

Throughout Seven Samurai there is a constant battle between modernists and traditionalists, we see this shown through certain characters within the film. As an audience we are meant to and are encouraged to side with the modernists, embracing their views and beliefs. Those who represent modernists within the film are energetic, they bring life and as an audience we are encouraged to make a connection. Shino and Katsushiro are two modernists within Seven Samurai, young and full of energy along with youth they spark a romance that is used as a subplot, the romance is something we are meant to care for very much especially when traditionalists attempt to destroy what is formed. More so Gasaku supports the same views, being the eldest member of the farming village, surprisingly he encourages the change stating how they need to develop in order to survive, “Years ago, when all of you were still babies, our village was burned out by bandits. When I was running away I saw something. There was one village left unburned. It has hired samurai.” His speech only emphasises his strong modernist beliefs. Gasaku being a modernist is very important as he is respected and being the “wise old man” stereotype his views should be correct.  In complete contrast the traditionalist of Seven Samurai are not important to the audience, at every occasion and chance we are also encouraged to show an extreme dislike towards them. Manzo and Yohei are the films traditionalists, Yohei is a complete comic relief character only providing laughs as he is even mocked my our “protagonists” “you can be our scarecrow” whilst Manzo is shown taking away his daughters relationship and equality chopping of her hair and eventually disowning her.

To finally heighten and emphasise the messages throughout Seven Samurai the final scene is very symbolic. As the farmers celebrate, singing and planting a new harvest after being victorious over the bandits the remaining samurai stand watching next to their buried dead companions. The symbolism starts with the simple surroundings of both groups; the modern farmers who stood up against traditions are surrounded by life and hope whilst the military stand surrounded by death with no hope. Kambei the samurai leader has a very important final line, “With their land the farmers are the victors not us” The line shows how the modernists have become victors but also shows how in a present day 1954 Japan farmers and the previous “poor” citizens have more power. It furthermore hints at the land reform that took place after post-war America which saw farmers being full ownership of their land.

The very beginning of Seven Samurai from Rikichi’s need for change to Kambei final words all highlight and glorify how in order to survive, compete and live Japan need to change their traditions. Throughout it also shows how the Military who have lost the war and their power have to now accept change or they will have no place within Japan. These very ideas and beliefs that are portrayed through such a well-written story really make Seven Samurai have another level of depth, making it a classic and one which should be respected and appreciated.

 

Seven Samurai (1954)

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto ,  Hideo Oguni

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima

Rating: ★★★★★

Seven Samurai is possibly one of the best and most popular Japanese films to be released until this present day with such a great deeper meaning behind an entertaining, touching and comedic story. Akira Kurosawa’s classic shows off some great directing and acting too from what was at the time an iconic and popular cast. Seven Samurai is a film that is must-watch not just for some entertainment but for appreciation of classic Japanese cinema as well as cinema as a whole.

The story of Seven Samurai follows a group of farmers who each year allows bandits to take their women, food and crops as they invade doing their expected “duties”. However they call for a time of change and for others to take action. Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) a young farmer demands that his fellow farmers must stand up and protect their land so they set off to their local town to hire seven Samurai to defend them from the bandits. Finding the Samurai is not easy for the farmers; those who pass have masters or better values than to serve peasants with the wage of a bowl of rice. Despite this they acquire their Seven Samurai returning to their farm, they begin to form a strategy and a plan to defend and defeat the bandits. When the bandits attack the Samurai and farmers stand brave and strong, but in a battle there are always fatalities and the farmers have to pay a price for their land.

Seven Samurai has a much more deeper meaning than what first meets the eye, the film is actually a metaphor for the battle between Japanese Society and the Military in 1954 Japan as post-war to American a big paradigm shift took place, something I will separately post about when I analyse Kurosawa’s classic. There’s so much depth to the story and characters that you seem to form a connection with so many and route for them all the way. The individual characters of the seven Samurai are brilliant, Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune) is my personal favourite as he offers so much in the sense of comedy and for entertainment, and he also delivers such a powerful and meaningful speech. The character of Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) a skilled samurai is also brilliant, as at one point he arrives back with his sword telling the leader Kambei (Takashi Shimura) to cross off another two dead bandits. In a whole all the cast give great performances and even more than 50 years on they are still as believable and effective, like the film itself. A huge amount of credit is deserved and should be directed towards the writers for such amazing development of characters as well as conveying that important hidden meaning and additional message.

The directing from Kurosawa is also something that is excellent, something that makes Seven Samurai such a classic. The battle scenes are entertaining and a real treat, what I find remarkable is how at the time to manage to capture rain on the camera they had to use black dye and buckets full of water had to be constantly chucked over the set and actors. When you realise the effort they all went to, it is actually amazing. The way he also chooses to shoot certain scenes are interesting, especially when delivering those important messages which again help to emphasise arguments and values.

Another aspect I find a real positive is how Seven Samurai is a staggering 202 minutes,  in the present day that isn’t a common runtime but what I find remarkable is how despite that enormous length of time you stay so engaged and entertained, something I don’t think many modern day films could even achieve in short amount of time.  Since 1954 it has become a real classic and furthermore a “template film” in terms of structure and story, with films such as Antz (1997) playing a complete homage.

Seven Samurai is certainly my favourite Japanese film of all time, a real classic too and there’s no surprise it ranks so highly among IMBD’s Top 250. The story, directing and acting are just brilliant but once you analyse the film and truly see its excellence everything becomes a work of art. It brings great action, comedy and entertainment making it a real “must-watch” and an enjoyable experience so I would recommend it greatly.