47 Ronin (2013): Carl Rinsch’s Mythic Epic, Starring Keanu Reeves

Universal must have known that they have a troubled movie in 47 Ronin.  There has been little publicity (and a misleading one at that), not to mention the fact that the picture had first opened—and already failed–in several foreign countries, including Japan.

Based on a mythic legend, the tale of 47 Ronin is so integral to Japanese culture that there have been numerous versions, including a word, Chushingura, which describes the very act of narration.

It might have been a mistake to assign this historically and culturally specific story to Carl Rinsch, a first-time American director who shows talent in the visual aspects of the production, but complete ineptness as far as storytelling or  involvement are concerned.

Despite some dazzling images, and gorgeous set-pieces, the narrative is arch and dull and its characters unappealing (which is not the actors’ fault).

Don’t blame he Hollywood studios for not encouraging emerging talents: I suspect that Rinsch was hired based on his impressive short, The Gift.  As director, Rinsch has set his goal high, aiming t place his saga in the respectable martial arts turf, as defined by masters like Zhang Yimou or Tsui Hark.

Be warned: The marketing of 47 Ronin, which reportedly cost north of $200 million, is calculatingly deceptive, as Keanu Reeves is far from being the star or lead character of this saga.  Note that the real star, the Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada (recently seen with Hugh Jackman in “The Wolverine”), is nowhere to be seen in the American posters.  Likely to be dismissed by most critics, 47 Ronin will be released on Christmas Day by Universal, which should take a huge loss on its product.

In this wannabe 3D fantasy-adventure epic,  Oishi (Sanada), the leader of 47 outcast samurai, seeks vengeance upon a treacherous overlord who had killed his master and banished members of his kind.  To accomplish his goal, he is joined by Kai (Reeves), an outcast who’s half-breed. To restore honor to their cherished homeland, the warriors embark upon a quest that challenges them with a series of brutal trials.

Inspired by the diverse styles of Miyazaki and Hokusai, helmer Rinsch shoots aggressively enormous battles, set against the stunning landscapes, but to little narrative logic or emotional impact.

It does not help that the picture, whose rating of PG-13 shows its target audience, overextends its welcome by at least 20 minutes or so.