47 RONIN (Universal, 2013) D: Carl Rinsch, w/ Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada. Rating: NN; Blu-ray package: NNN Rating: NN
The tale of the 47 Ronin, based on a true incident in 1703, is still popular in Japan, where it's been staged and filmed many times. It's about the dilemma of 47 samurai who are duty- and honour-bound to avenge the death of their clan lord, and equally bound not to.
This film pays mere lip-service to the complexities and devastating ramifications of their quandary and instead tosses in monsters, a shape-shifting witch, a love interest and a half-English, half-Japanese outcast (Keanu Reeves) who turns out to be the hero.
Beautiful CG backgrounds and lots of action make the proceedings acceptable eye candy, and two solid performances provide a human dimension. Hiroyuki Sanada, as the ronins' leader, has a gravitas that would be right at home in a Kurosawa movie, and Rinko Kikuchi, the witch, camps and vamps with high-spirited glee.
If you don't know the story, the ending packs a punch, but really, you're better off with 1962's Chushingura.
Somewhere in the four making-of docs, director Carl Rinsch mentions honouring Japanese culture by "making it our own." The docs show how they did that with fights, CG and star Reeves.
EXTRAS Four making-of docs, deleted scenes. English, French, Spanish audio and subtitles.