Based loosely on the true story of the 47 Ronin (masterless Samurai) who took revenge on the man who was responsible for their master’s death, Hollywood has added sorcery, monsters, ghosts and…a sort of white dude. Hey, what do you expect from an industry that had Bruce Lee replaced by David Carradine in “Kung Fu” because the universe wasn’t ready for an Asian lead in television; and Native Americans in western movies were played by dark-skinned Italians? Yes, yes, lately  Hollywood has been better regarding their racist ways. After all, they could’ve hired Tom Cruise to play the lead.

“47 Ronin” has Keanu Reeves playing a half-Japanese/half-white character in the days of feudal Japan. Left out in the woods to die, he is raised by ghosts/demons; but runs away because he senses that his place is with people. He is taken in by a Japanese lord, Asano, who treats Keanu well, although most of the samurai under Asano treat him with contempt.

All is relatively well until Asano holds a tournament in his home turf.  The Shogun (highest, grand pooba of all Japan) is invited, as are a few lords, such as Kira, who secretly wants to take all of Asano’s lands.  Kira and his sorceress devise a plan to put Asano under a spell so Asano will attack Kira.  The plan works.  Kira is slightly wounded, the Shogun allows Asano the honor of committing ritual suicide instead of being hanged like a common criminal, Asano’s samurai are forced to disband and become ronin, and all lands that used to belong to Asano will now be under the control of Kira.  Mission accomplished.  Or so Kira thinks.

Reeves and the ronin plan to take revenge upon Kira for their master’s demise.  They do this knowing that the Shogun will most likely execute those who survive the raid against Kira’s castle.  But they gladly make this sacrifice to do honor to their dead master, and to fulfill their duties as loyal samurai who will destroy the one who did their master wrong.

Going up against Kira is not so easy. Besides having lots of samurai to protect him, he also has the protection of a sorceress who can turn herself into a fire-breathing dragon. When I saw her turn into this beast, I immediately wondered why Kira just doesn’t use her to destroy all of Asano’s soldiers from the start, and move from castle to castle, killing his opponents and forcing others to join him until he becomes powerful enough to challenge and kill the Shogun.  Big plot hole there.  More on this later.  Anyway, Keanu fighting the dragon is one of my memorable moments of this movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “47 Ronin” is the scene when Asano commits seppuku, or ritual suicide. Dressed in clean robes, Asano kneels before witnesses, lays out his death poem, and uses a knife to cut open his belly from left to right.  His “second” then cuts off Asano’s head to end the suffering.  It’s a testament to Asano’s bravery and willpower.  And yes, the real Asano killed himself in this way.

No way in hell I would’ve done that. Even the thought of a papercut makes me wince.  Hey, I have willpower and resolve…to keep myself alive and healthy!

Okay, back to the plot hole mentioned above.  Some of you may say, “No, no, Manny, samurai were loyal, and would never betray their master or their oaths of allegiance, so Kira could never take over the army of his fallen enemies and amass a huge force to make war against the Shogun for total control of Japan.”  Oh, really?  I happen to know that during battle, high-ranking samurai on the losing side would sometimes switch allegiance to the winning side, bringing along some of the soldiers he has under his command.  This didn’t happen often, but it did happen.

Don’t get caught up in the romanticized version of the samurai.  Yes, most were fiercely loyal to their masters, extremely brave, some were poets and artists.  But some were more protective of their own lives, turning against those whom they were supposed to protect.  Also, samurai were hardened warriors, and they readily took part in taking the spoils of war when they were victorious, including the rape of women.  Take them for what they were: extraordinary soldiers.  But soldiers sometimes do very evil and cruel acts.
— M