In feudal Japan, Lord Asano rules his province with fairness. However, jealous Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) fears that the shogun favors Asano over him and hatches a plot that ends with Asanos ritual suicide. After Asanos death, his samurai, led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), are forced to live as outcasts. Oishi wanders for several years but realizes that he must turn to Kai (Keanu Reeves), a mixed-blood warrior he once rejected, to help him and his ronin comrades take revenge on Lord Kira.
47 Ronin is a 2013 American fantasy action film depicting a fictional account of the forty-seven Ronin, a real-life group of masterless samurai in 18th-century Japan who avenged the death of their lord, in the style of Chushingura. Produced by Universal Studios, the film was directed by Carl Rinsch and stars Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada.
The film received very negative reviews for the lack of originality, slow pacing and character development, although some reviewers bestowed praise for the action and visuals. From a financial perspective, 47 Ronin was unusual because it grossed $151 million in worldwide box-office sales. However, the film failed to break even due to its total budget of $225 million (consisting of $175 million for the films production and $50 million for its distribution and marketing), and Variety reported the film as a costly box office disaster which left Universal Studios deeply in the red for 2013. Adjusted for inflation it lost an estimated $152 million, making it the second most expensive box office bomb ever behind The 13th Warrior. Variety magazine listed 47 Ronin as one of "Hollywoods biggest box office bombs of 2013".
Based on the original 1941 movie from Japan, and from ancient Japan’s most enduring tale, the epic 3D fantasy-adventure 47 Ronin is born. Keanu Reeves leads the cast as Kai, an outcast who joins Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the leader of the 47 outcast samurai. Together they seek vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who killed their master and banished their kind. To restore honor to their homeland, the warriors embark upon a quest that challenges them with a series of trials that would destroy ordinary warriors.
In late medieval Japan, Kai (Keanu Reeves) is a half-Japanese, half-English outcast who lives in the Ako Domain, which is ruled by the benevolent Lord Asano Naganori. When Kai was young, Asano found him lost in the forest and accepted him into his household. Kai and Asanos daughter, Mika, eventually fall in love despite Kai being scorned by her fathers samurai due to his lowborn status and mixed ancestry.
Before a planned visit from Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, Asano is visited by the Shoguns master of ceremonies, Lord Kira, who wants to take Ako for himself. Kira enlists the help of a shapeshifting Kitsune named Witch who sends a Kirin to kill Asano in the forest of Ako. Asanos samurai struggle in their battle with the monster so Kai joins in riding an abandoned horse. As the monster charges him, Kai recovers a lost sword that he uses to slay it. Shortly thereafter he spots a white fox with different coloured eyes watching from the underbrush—Witch in her fox form. Later during the Shoguns visit, Kai sees that one of the Shoguns concubines has the same two-colored eyes which leads him to assume that she was the fox from the forest. He tries to warn Asanos principal counselor and samurai, Oishi, that she is a witch but Oishi doesnt believe him.
Later, Kira arranges a duel for the entertainment of the Shogun: Kiras best warrior, the giant Lovecraftian Samurai, will battle a warrior of Asanos choosing. However, before the duel begins, Witch uses her magic to incapacitate Asanos combatant. Kai secretly dons his armor and fights in his stead, but his disguise is revealed and the Shogun orders him severely beaten as punishment. Later that night, Witch uses her magic to make Asano believe that Kira is raping Mika, causing him to attack an unarmed Kira in his delirium. Asano is sentenced to death for attacking a Shogunate official (which is an executable offense), though the Shogun allows him to die with honor through seppuku. The Shogun then gives Kira both the Ako domain and Mika, although he grants Mika one year to mourn the death of her father before marrying Kira. The Shogun also brands Oishi and his men ronin and forbids them from seeking vengeance for Asanos death. To ensure that the ronin dont interfere with his takeover plans, Kira imprisons Oishi in an outdoor pit to break his spirit.
Nearly a year later, Oishi is released by Kiras men. He now knows that Kira is guilty of treachery for using Witchs sorcery to cause Asanos downfall. Oishi reunites with his family and asks his son Chikara to aid him in reuniting the scattered ronin. They learn that Kai has been sold into slavery and they rescue him from the fighting pits of the Dutch colony of Dejima. Kai leads them to the Tengu Forest, a mystical place he escaped from as a child, so that they can find swords for themselves. Kai instructs Oishi to never draw his sword while in the Tengu temple and continues alone to another room to face the Tengu Master, who once trained Kai in their fighting ways. While Kai confronts the Tengu Master in a battle of wills, Oishi watches an illusion of his men being slaughtered by the Tengu, during which he fights the urge to draw his own sword. With Kai and Oishi both successful in their Tengu challenges, the ronin are given magical Tengu swords.
Armed with their new weapons, the ronin plan to attack Kira on his pilgrimage to a shrine where he seeks blessings for his wedding to Mika. However, Kiras procession is a trap and the ronin are ambushed by Kiras forces, led by Witch and the Lovecraftian Samurai. Several of the ronin are killed, and Witch, thinking they are all dead, takes Oishis sword and presents it to Kira as a trophy. Witch later taunts Mika with their deaths and attempts to manipulate her into committing suicide from despair.
Oishi and Kai (having actually survived the attack) rally the surviving ronin. Oishi and half of the ronin infiltrate Kiras (Asanos) castle by disguising themselves as a band of traveling wedding performers loyal to the memory of Lord Asano. With Kiras men distracted during the performance, Kai and the remaining ronin scale the castle walls, and the reunited group start to battle with Kiras men. While Oishi fights Kira, Kai and Mika are attacked by Witch, who shape-shifts into a dragon. Kai uses his magic sword and draws on the mystical powers of the Tengu to finally kill her. Oishi then emerges with Kiras severed head and Kiras men surrender.
After winning the battle, the ronin (including Kai) surrender themselves to Shogunate authority and they are sentenced to death as they explicitly violated the Shoguns prohibition on seeking revenge against Kira. However, the Shogun finds that they followed the principles of Bushido in their actions and therefore restored their honor as samurai. Thus, instead of being executed as criminals, the ronin are allowed to perform seppuku so they can die with their honor restored. They are also given the honor of burial with their master, Lord Asano. The Shogun gives Ako back to Mika, and at the seppuku ceremony, he pardons Oishis son Chikara so that he may serve Ako and preserve such a noble samurai bloodline for the country.
Closing notes tell that the tradition of paying respect at the graves of the 47 Ronin continues today.
47 Ronin is the directorial debut of Carl Rinsch based on a screenplay by The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift screenwriter Chris Morgan and The Wings of the Dove screenwriter Hossein Amini brought in for rewrites. The film has almost nothing in common with the original historical epic, being set "in a world of witches and giants." The studio Universal Pictures first announced the project in December 2008 with actor Keanu Reeves attached to star. Variety reported, "The film will tell a stylized version of the story, mixing fantasy elements of the sort seen in The Lord of the Rings pics, with gritty battle scenes akin to those in films such as Gladiator." Universal planned to produce the film in 2009 after finding a director, and in November of that year, the studio entered talks with Rinsch to direct the film. For Rinsch, who has filmed "visual and stylish" blurbs for brands, the film was his feature film debut.
In December 2010, the studio announced that the film would be produced and released in 3D. Between March and April 2011, five Japanese actors were cast alongside Reeves: Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Kou Shibasaki, and Jin Akanishi. According to Variety, Universal chose them to make the story more authentic instead of picking actors that would be recognizable in the United States, despite the screenplay bearing no resemblance to the origin story of Chushingura. Universal provided Rinsch with an initial production budget of $175 million despite his complete lack of feature film experience, which The Hollywood Reporter considered to be a "large-scale, downright risky" move. Filming began on March 14, 2011 in Budapest. Origo Film Group contributed to the movie. Production moved to Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom; additional filming in Japan was also planned. Reeves said that scenes were filmed first in the Japanese language to familiarize the cast, and the scenes are filmed again in the English language. The actors costumes were designed by Penny Rose, who said, "We decided to base it on the culture and what the shapes should be—i.e., everyones in a kimono—but weve thrown a kind of fashion twist at it. And weve made it full of color, which is quite unusual for me."
Re-shoots were done in London during late August 2012, delayed by the Olympics and the filming of Reeves directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi. Universal Studios pulled Rinsch from the project during the editing stages in late 2012, with Universal executive Donna Langley taking over the editing process. In addition, the studio added a love scene, extra close-ups, and individual lines of dialogue to try and boost Reeves presence in the film, which significantly added to the budget of the film.
47 Ronin was originally scheduled to be released on November 21, 2012, then moved to February 8, 2013, citing the need for work on the 3D visual effects. It was later postponed to December 25, 2013, to account for the reshoots and post-production.
The film opened initially in Japan in the first week of December 2013, where it opened to 753 screens nationwide and only grossed an estimated US$1.3 million, opening third behind the debut week of Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie and the third week of the Studio Ghibli film Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya). Variety called the poor Japanese debut "troubling", considering the well known local cast and the fact that the film is loosely based on a famous Japanese tale. The evening tabloid newspaper Nikkan Gendai stated that its dismal performance were "unheard of numbers" generated by Japanese distaste for a Hollywood rendition of Chushingura bearing no resemblance to the renowned historical epic.
In the United States, the film grossed US$20.6 million in its first five days of release, opening in ninth place at the box office. It also grossed US$2.3 million for a fifth place debut in the United Kingdom.
The film is currently estimated to be the largest box office bomb, unable to recover its $175 million production (excluding advertising and distribution) budget.
47 Ronin received generally negative reviews from critics, failing to impress Japanese audiences where studio expectations were high. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 14% rating, with an average score of 4.1/10, based on 74 reviews; the consensus states: "47 Ronin is a surprisingly dull fantasy adventure, one that leaves its talented international cast stranded within one dimensional roles." The film has a score of 29 (out of 100) on Metacritic, based on 21 critics.
Kirsten Acuna of Business Insider believes that the film flopped for three reasons. First, it opened in December when there is an over-saturation of films for the Christmas holiday. Second, the film was “too long in the vault” undergoing editing and lost momentum. Third, audiences have not been drawn to Keanu Reeves since the last Matrix film more than 10 years ago.
Despite the films poor reception, it received nominations for Best Costume and Best Production Design at the 40th Saturn Awards, but lost to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, respectively.
The 47 Ronin (1941). Maleficent (2014). Hiroyuki Sanada appears in 47 Ronin and The Wolverine. Seventh Son (2014). Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay for 47 Ronin and Snow White and the Huntsman.
Universal Pictures released 47 Ronin on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D on April 1, 2014.