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Film / 47 Ronin

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47 Ronin is a 2013 fantasy/action film loosely based on the story of The 47 Ronin. Very loosely.

Outcast from society and enslaved due to being half-Japanese, half-British, a man named Kai (Keanu Reeves) encounters the eponymous ronin, led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada). They, of course, are samurai out to get revenge for the death of their master. His killer, Lord Kira, is allied with a wicked witch (Rinko Kikuchi) who controls supernatural forces threatening the land which Kai and the ronin must defeat.

The first trailer can be seen here. Despite the film's failure at the box office, a sequel, written by Aimee Garcia and AJ Mendez, is in development for Universal's home media division.

Compare The 47 Ronin, a four-hour epic adaptation of the "47 ronin" story made in Imperial Japan in 1941 and 1942, or Chushingura, a similarly epic 1962 Japanese version in color.


Tropes present in this film include:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Tengu swords, but only in the hands of a brave and skillful warrior. In the hands of a coward, they become completely dull.
  • Actor Allusion: Seems rather ironic for Rinko Kikuchi to turn into a giant monster, doesn't it?
  • Adaptational Badass: Lord Kira in the film can put up a fight and does fight when cornered. His Real Life counterpart acted cowardly to the end, fleeing his home, hiding in a coal dump and refusing to end honorably by Seppuku even when asked.
    • His Real Life grandson, wounded in the raid, got sentenced to death by the Shogun for not fighting to death (as expected from a Samurai) to protect his home and family.
  • Advertised Extra: Rick Genest, aka "Zombie Boy", was featured prominently in posters for the film. He appears in one scene in the film that lasts about thirty seconds, with the role entirely consisting of an interesting-looking extra who points them where to go.
    • In the Novelization of the film by Joan D. Vinge, his only role is to freak out Oishi: the old warrior is horrified and asks himself what kind of man finds the image of dead bodies (ritually unclean for the Japanese) "beautiful".
  • All in the Manual: Mizuki's name is never mentioned in the movie, not even the end credits.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: The Shogun orders Lady Asano to wed Lord Kira to force Ako into Kira's hands and prevent Lord Asano's forces from attacking out of vengeance.
  • Artistic License – History: Setting aside the over-the-top fantasy monsters...
    • Lord Asano goes completely out of his way to save Kai after the failed duel with the giant in silver. A commoner, let alone a half-breed, donning Samurai armor and pretending to be one would have been executed. The Shogun's order to kill him was not a gratuitous cruelty, but the rule of law. And Lord Asano begs forgiveness admitting his own guilt and shaming himself. This will prove useful for the avengers in the future, but at that moment it was an extraordinary favor, coming from a Daimyo as it did.
    • Lord Asano Naganori is portrayed as an old and wizened man and Lord Kira Yoshinaka as a young upstart noble (which resonates with him being power-hungry). In Real Life, during the events of 1701 AD, Lord Kira was the older man (Lord Asano was 34 by then and Lord Kira was almost 60).
    • What actually fit historical reality was the wealth difference between the two protagonists. Lord Asano had been a Daimyo (prince and fief ruler) over a 50,000 koku domain and master over more than 300 Samurai, while Lord Kira had been just a Hatamoto (senior nobleman) who ruled over a lesser fief, 11 times smaller. In the film, he is portrayed as ruler of a poor fief remote in the savage lands.
    • Both attacks on Kira happened in Edo (one in the shogun's residence, the other in Kira's mansion), not in Ako and Kira's fortress in northern Japan. That's why the temple where Asano and the 47 are buried is in modern day Tokyo.
    • As far as anyone knows, Kira had no plans to conquer Japan. His quarrel with Asano was over manners and possibly bribes, nothing else.
    • In reality, the reason it took over a year for Asano's former vassals to go after Kira was that the latter was on his guard and they didn't think they had any chances of success if they attacked him right away. So they went their own ways pretending to not even be thinking of revenge. Oishi in particular started to frequent prostitutes and get drunk in public. Only once Kira was thoroughly convinced that nobody was coming after him and relaxed his guard did they act. No pits were involved.
    • The historical raid on Kira's mansion happened without any subterfuge, just a straight up attack. The 47 posted archers on the roofs to stop people from getting help, went to inform the neighbours that they were not bandits and asking them not to interfere (which they didn't) and then attacked through the front and the back door.
    • None of the ronin knew Kira before, they had to identify him from the scar left by Asano's attack.
    • Kira's death happened quite differently. After the 47 had spent some time looking for him, they gathered around him. Oishi then respectfully introduced them, informed Kira of their intent and offered him Lord Asano's dagger to commit seppuku. Only upon Kira's refusal did Oishi behead him himself.
  • Asian Fox-Spirit: The witch is strongly implied to be one — seductive, shapeshifter, a mistress of plotting and trickery, most of the time turns into fox-form.
  • Audible Sharpness: Not two minutes into the film, someone picks a sword up out of a puddle and it goes "FSCCCHWINGGG".
  • Barrier Warrior: Invoked by Kai, who uses his sword to deflect a burst of flame. Handwaved in that he earlier demonstrated "magical powers" learned from the Tengu, and that the sword is supposed to have powers as well.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Despite the looseness of the adaptation, the story does end with all the ronin committing honorable suicide, including Kai; he and Mika promise to find each other in another lifetime.
  • Break the Cutie: Mizuki does this big time towards Lady Asano. She constantly taunts her and later tells her that her father's men and Kai are dead.
  • Break the Haughty: What a year in a pit does to Oishi to the point that he later bows to Kai when offering him clothing to wear.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • Kai addressing Oishi as "ronin". Doubles almost as Breaking Speech for the effect it has on Oishi.
    • Later on, Oishi passes it on to Yasuno: "None of us are samurai anymore."
  • The Brute: The big samurai in silver armor. He turned out to be a living suit.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Having the main character be of mixed ancestry while the rest of the cast is Japanese seems to indicate this.
  • Canon Foreigner: No pun intended, but half-British Kai is original to the movie.
    • So is Mika (the historical Asano had no children).
    • You will not find the names Basshō or Yasuno on a list of the 47 Ronin.
  • Cassandra Truth: Kai warns Oishi that a concubine traveling with Lord Kira has the same mismatched eyes as a white fox he saw during their demon hunt a week earlier. Oishi warns him that only a demon could see past a witch's disguises, and asks if Kai is a demon. He says he's not, and Oishi suggests he was just bewitched by the concubine's beauty. Unfortunately this causes a lot of problems for the people of Ako later on.
  • Costume Porn: Penny Rose's costumes look extravagant to say the least.
  • Cruel to Be Kind:
    • Lord Asano taking the blame for Kai fighting instead of Yasuno during the tournament. Though he suffers a beating, at least his life was spared.
    • Oishi tells his wife that she should divorce him to be free of any blame for the revenge he was about to enact on Lord Asano's behalf. However, she refuses to do so, stating she was going to follow him till the bitter end as the wife of a samurai.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Oishi held Kira's severed head at the end.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Between Kai and Oishi. Kai saved the girl, but it was Oishi who defeated the Big Bad.
  • The Dragon: Mizuki the witch. Literally becomes one at the end of the film as well.
  • The Dreaded: Lord Kira's samurai. On top of the scary looking armor he's wearing, he's also much larger than everyone else. So when he starts to approach a group of Oishi's men, they understandably back away from him.
  • Dress-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • Lord Kira's samurai wear a black and silver uniform.
    • Lord Asano and his men wear red and gold, the colors of celebration in East Asian cultures.
    • Mika wears a white dress during her marriage ceremony — white is a mourning color for Japanese, not a celebratory one. This was a Stealth Insult to Lord Kira and a way to show she still mourned her father and clan.
    • Lord Kira has flowing hair, not tied in the traditional Samurai chonmage top knot, even in festive occasions and in front of the Shogun himself. This was a violation of the Samurai dress code and a way to show he didn't care for tradition and had no respect for authority.
  • Dull Surprise: Keanu Reeves doesn't get to show off a very wide range of emotion.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Some of Mizuki's dialogue can seem this way at times, particularly when taunting Lady Asano.
  • Exact Words: The witch prophesied correctly how Lord Kira will be paraded throughout Japan and people bow before him in towns and villages, how his name will last... just he was paraded as a severed head and his name lasts to present day as one of the greatest Jerkasses of Japan.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: A ronin killed by Mizuki's trap was named Basho, which is unlikely as a samurai's name. Basho Matsuo was the pseudonym of a famous Japanese poet.
  • Fantastic Racism: Kai is ostracized not only because of his mixed ancestry which makes him look different than every Japanese person, but also because of his suspicious early upbringing by some demons. And when Oishi brings him along for the revenge plan, some of his men still don't trust Kai.
  • Flash Step: The Tengu move at such an alarmingly fast speed that they appear like a blur to Oishi and his men.
  • Flynning: Averted. Many scenes involve the samurai/ronin go for the kill, sometimes brutally so. It happens in its classic form during Oishi's fight on the Dutch Island with maddened Kai, since neither wants to kill, but subdue. Japanese swordsmanship avoided at all costs the edge-to-edge contact of the blades for show.
  • Fog of Doom: A creature made of fog appears in the trailer.
  • Garnishing the Story: There were no dragons in the original (true) tale. note 
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: What Kira is trying to do to Oishi. After the latter's release from the pit the audience is left waiting a few minutes before finding out whether or not it sticks.
    • Even stronger in the novelisation, where the release scene is longer and much more explicitely humiliating. Even Oishi himself is not entirely sure how much of his behaviour was an act to fool Kira's spy and how much stemmed from genuine brokenness.
  • Go Through Me: Lady Asano leaps towards Kai before Lord Kira's samurai can kill him. After Lord Asano apologizes for Kai's actions (he wasn't a samurai, but stepped in when the witch knocked out the former's samurai intended for the duel, which was seen as an insult), the Shogun allows Kai to be beaten instead of killed.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Lord Asano's seppuku doesn't show the gory/bloody parts. And when the beheading takes place, the candles in Kai's room go out instead to signify his death.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Kai gets hit with it hard. It's the reason he was enslaved. He even gets it twofold, partially for being half English, and then partially for being said to be part demon.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Tengu's home, it's even in The Lost Woods!
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Downplayed with Lord Asano. Not much is known about the historical Asano's rule, but the movie version is The Good King, a Doting Parent, a Reasonable Authority Figure and A Father to His Men. To top it off, he doesn't even commit the act of violence that the historical Asano is best known for, or at least not of his own volition. Contrary to the real person, this Asano is completely blameless in the events of the story.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The historical Kira was at best a petulant old man who took a perceived slight way out of proportion and at worst a corrupt functionary who used his position to be a jerk. He did not ally himself with a witch and plan to take over Japan.
  • Honey Trap: Mizuki uses one on one of Oishi's men while he's trying to gather information on Lord Kira's movements. He later tells Oishi about Lord Kira planning to move at night, but his eyes are clouded like other characters earlier in the film who were brainwashed by Mizuki. He is later burned alive after luring Oishi and his men into an ambush.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: When Oishi first sees Kai in the port town after his release from the pit, the latter is fighting a very large man. After he wins, Oishi attempts to talk to him, only for Kai to attack. Oishi attempts to get Kai to recognize him, but the latter doesn't seem to care until he mentions Lady Asano being married off to Lord Kira if they don't stop it.
  • Irony:
    • The words Mizuki tells Lord Kira about him being paraded through towns with people bowing to him. See the Exact Words trope for more description.
    • Kai is hated and despised throughout his life for being a half-breed, treated as a dangerous savage, a demon spawn. The character which mostly deserves such treatment, the witch (who is not even human, cruel, murderous) is a highly respected lady, concubine of a Daimyo.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: But Tengu Blades are the best.
  • Keystone Army: After Lord Kira is beaten by Oishi, the former's men immediately stop fighting. Largely because he's holding their lord's head in his hands.
  • Kick the Dog: As if Lord Kira's actions at the tournament weren't heinous enough, later on he's seen sparring with two men. He knocks one of them out right away, and the other is defeated enough to fall to his knees. Lord Kira then hits him with his wooden sword, and then kicks the poor guy's face a couple of times.
  • The Kingslayer: During the climax battle in Lord Kira's castle, the leader of the ronin manages to defeat Lord Kira and take his head, signifying their victory.
  • Kirin: A Kirin appears at the beginning where it was sent by an Asian Fox-Spirit named Mizuki to kill Lord Asano but was killed by Kai.
  • Large Ham: Rinko Kikuchi is just here to have some fun, as seen her over-the-top portrayal of Mizuki demonstrates. The rest of the cast, on the other hand...
  • Living Macguffin: Uh... the Big Bad himself. Beyond killing a sparring partner and ordering Oishi tossed down a pit early on, he accomplishes literally nothing throughout the movie that Mizuki doesn't do for him, instead having a role consisting of reacting to what people tell him and running when people try to kill him. He's simply an object to be destroyed.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Mizuki taunts Lady Asano at one point, saying that her father's men and Kai have been killed. She then tells her that while she promised Lord Kira she wouldn't harm a hair on her head, what Lady Asano does to herself is beyond her control. Then she stabs the ground next to Lady Asano, leaving behind a knife and implying she kill herself.
    • The Shogun tells Oishi that they should be hanged as criminalsnote  due to disobeying his order to not seek vengeance for Lord Asano's death. However, because they were following the ways of Bushido and avenged their lord's murder, he allows them to die with dignity via Seppuku.
  • Meaningful Name: Kai spells his name with a kanji meaning "to charge ahead of others".
  • Mighty Whitey: Kai is half-white, raised by Tengu, possesses magical abilities none of his fellow samurai do, and raises to a position above what should have been possible for a man of his lineagenote , and while he is one of the main protagonists who rescues the princess, ultimately the true hero of the story is Oishi, who slays the Big Bad and led his men, including Kai, to victory. In-setting, Kai qualifies both for his half-English heritage and the fact that he learned magic powers from being raised by tengu. From an audience standpoint, the entirety of the movie seems designed to evoke the "Exotic Orient". Of course, Kai's fighting skills and magic abilities all come from Japanese beings, as well as being raised from childhood among Samurai. Everything special about Kai comes from locals, so the Mighty Whitey aspect is downplayed. If anything, his heritage is a huge problem, since people don't trust him. And in the end, he dies just like all other Ronin.
  • Morphic Resonance: Mizuki always has a brown and blue eye when shapeshifted.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer shows both Kai fighting a Tengu and the Zombie Boy dual-wielding guns. They don't in the actual movie.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When Kai takes Oishi and his men to the Tengu forest in an attempt to get some swords, he tells the latter to come alone. He also warns Oishi not to draw his weapon no matter what happens inside. While his men do wait for a while, they eventually come into the temple where the other two are. They then show up, and pull their weapons out, causing the Tengu praying in the temple to attack them. Oishi can hear someone telling him to draw his blade to save his men as they're slaughtered left and right. However, this becomes a subversion when it turns out that Oishi was actually being tested, and none of his men being killed was real, but instead all of it was an illusion to see if he would listen to what Kai said about not pulling his weapon out. He later sees Kai and the Tengu once again praying, but this time with swords in front for his men.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain:
    • Mizuki gave a distressed Mika the knife so she could kill herself. Instead she hid it in her person to use on Kira so she could escape.
    • After barely surviving in the pit for a year, Oishi is let out and within hours begins to form his rebellion. Why Kira couldn't just leave him down there is unknown.
  • Noodle Incident: Chikara is notably nicer to Kai than any of the other samurai, clearly defers to his knowledge and the two are often seen together even in the first half of the movies. Where the son of the guy who hates Kai's guts picked up such niceties is left unexplained.
    • Becomes a Resolved Noodle Incident in the novelisation: Chikara is the only one to have found out that Kai is a skilled sword fighter and half-blackmails Kai into teaching him. It's been going on for a while and changed their relation into what we see.
  • Performer Guise: The ronin halt a group of kabuki performers who are going to perform for Lord Kira's wedding ceremony and some of them assume their guise, while the others do a silent assault on Lord Kira's fort.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Keanu Reeves is biracial Caucasian-East Asian descent, and thus his character was written as such too.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Lord Asano, who doesn't kill Kai when he first meets the boy. He also raises him and commits Seppuku to retain his clan's honor after he's brainwashed into attacking Lord Kira.
    • Oishi as well. After he takes over for Lord Asano, he realizes that if they attacked Lord Kira now, the people of Ako would be slaughtered in retaliation.
    • Heck, even the Shogun isn't a heartless bastard. When Oishi and his men are getting ready to commit Seppuku, he stops Chikara, Oishi's son, from doing it as well. Instead he tells Chikara to live on and serve Lady Asano so that Oishi's bloodline wouldn't die out, despite Chikara having taken part in the revenge plan.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Oishi realizes that if they did attack after Lord Asano's forced Seppuku, then the people of Ako would be slaughtered down to the last man, woman, and child so they instead turn their sword down before the Shogun. The latter also realizes that what just happened wouldn't sit well with his followers. So he makes them ronin, or masterless samurai, and orders them specifically to not attack Lord Kira or seek vengeance, probably also with the implication that Ako would be attacked by all the other Japanese provinces in retaliation. However, they do eventually end up doing this, though it takes at least a year to do so, mostly because Oishi was in jail for that time, but also to throw off Lord Kira's heightened security immediately following Lord Asano's death.
  • Saved From Their Own Honor: The titular ronin are going to commit seppuku because they have pulled a coup on Lord Kira. The shogun, however, decides to spare at least the ronin leader's son so that he could tell the story of the brave, heroic ronin to other people.
  • Scaled Up: The villainess can turn into a dragon.
  • Secret Test of Character: For Oishi. Though Kai subverts this somewhat by forewarning him and also telling him how to pass the test. Not that it is easy for him however, as he was told to save his men as they are being slain left and right.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The Fat Comic Relief gets mortally wounded after the group is led into an ambush.
  • Smug Snake: Lord Kira often has this look in many of the scenes he's in. You can practically tell he's up to no good the moment you see him on screen.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Lady Asano is so out of reach of the half-gaijin commoner Kai that her father could have legally executed him if he'd even tried to court her, a fact that Kai is painfully aware of.
  • Take a Third Option: After the first village Oishi attempts to get weapons from is taken over and presumably wiped out by Lord Kira's men, he suggests they can probably get weapons in a different nearby village. Kai says it'll be impossible, as Lord Kira will have taken over the entire region and they'd just end up in the same situation as the first village. He then suggests they go to the Tengu forest to acquire weapons, which coincidentally was also where he was raised prior to running away to Ako.
  • Thrown Down a Well: Kira dumps Oishi into a pit for a year to break his spirit. (It doesn't.)
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The giant silver samurai getting blown up by a bomb? Yup, shown off in the very first trailer.
  • Uncanny Valley: The tengu, rather than possessing their traditional, long-nosed masks (which the filmmakers must've thought would look silly to a Western audience) appear to be freakish bird-human hybrids, with a nose that's somewhat between a human one and a fleshy, pointy beak. Combined with their yellow bird eyes and monotone speech, the end result is very creepy.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Very loosely, turning the original story into a fantasy setting with monsters and magic. Looser still turning it into a love story rather than the revenge plot it literally was.
  • Western Samurai: The story has Kai, a half-Japanese, half-British man raised to be a samurai that eventually becomes the leader of the 47 Ronin searching to revenge their master.
  • Wretched Hive: The "Dutch Island", an artificial atoll made from European trading ships that Oishi visits after being released from the pit to find Kai, who's now being forced to fight to the death in a ring.