In the beginning of the 18th century, a group of samurai were left leaderless (thus becoming ronin) after their daimyo was ordered to commit seppuku for assaulting a court official. They swore to avenge him and restore his honor by killing the court official, which they did, though it took them two years of waiting and planning. They were then forced to commit seppuku themselves, to answer for the murder that the way of bushido demanded of them.
This is one of the greatest legends in Japanese culture and has been celebrated in festivals and plays for many years.
47 Ronin incorporates other aspects of Asian myth and legend into the classic tale (namely demons, magic and mysticism) for a new, fantastic twist. The project is the directorial debut for Carl Erik Rinsch, as far as feature-length films are concerned, and I found it quite impressive. Attire, weaponry, sets and so forth all seemed quite accurate for the time period, as well.
While I realize that Keanu Reeves isn't exactly a golden-boy among movie fans and gets knocked quite a bit for a presumed lack of acting ability, I am not among that group and have been a fan of his for many years. I've enjoyed most of his films and this one is no exception.
Here he plays a half-breed outcast barely tolerated by Japanese society but is protected by the daimyo whose death triggers the events which unfold. Yet his character, Kai, is much more than that and, as his own origins come to light, he becomes indispensable to the Ronin in carrying out their vengeance.
The cast is filled with many notable faces of Asian cinema and the acting superb. Hiroyuki Sanada as Oishi and Rinko Kikuchi as The Witch deliver outstanding performances and their characters were the most notable for me, other than Keanu's own. The epic battle near the film's end was quite a treat, especially when Kai faces The Witch.
Sadly, this film has yet to recoup it's financial costs, which were hefty; this is even more despairing considering the creativity and effort put into making such a fine film. Perhaps this is due to Reeves in the starring role and the fact that he hasn't exactly hit the box-office motherload since The Matrix. In his defense, he delivers a solid performance here; with regards to the film itself, and all those who had a hand in it's making, all I can say is that those who choose not to see it are missing out.
47 Ronin isn't Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai but it doesn't pretend to be either. It is a fictionalization of history, a fantastical take on legend and a feast for the senses that should not be spurned by anyone who has a love for the period and subject matter. It's quite good, people.