The UnPopular Opinion: 47 Ronin

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!


Do you remember when Keanu Reeves couldn't open a big budget studio film? It is hard to believe that there was a decade between THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS and JOHN WICK where a Reeves movie was not a box office behemoth. Despite some wide release films like CONSTANTINE and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, from 2003 to 2014, Keanu Reeves worked steadily but was nowhere near the popularity he enjoyed before or since. Smack in the middle of that period, Keanu Reeves starred in an epic fantasy adventure that blended 3D, CGI, and a global cast before going on to become one of the biggest box office flops of all time. With a first time director and multiple release date changes, 47 RONIN was doomed before it even hit screens. This is a damn shame because in the years since it was dead on arrival and in post-JOHN WICK hindsight, 47 RONIN is a gorgeous and fun movie that deserves a second look.

So much of what you likely know about 47 RONIN is driven by negative buzz and news stories, many of which we ran right here on It was a risky project from the outset but one that spent a lot more effort to be culturally authentic and aesthetically original than the vast majority of Hollywood productions, something so many complain about today. But, 47 RONIN cost an astonishing $175 million to make and featured a cast of actors relatively unknown in North America aside from Keanu Reeves. That alone would have been a red flag but Universal then elected to go with a rookie director in Carl Rinsch who had never helmed a full length film before, let alone one as massive as 47 RONIN. All signs were pointing to disaster. From a script by FAST AND FURIOUS franchise writer Chris Morgan with contributions by award-winning DRIVE writer Hossein Amini, 47 RONIN achieves the goal of blending the fantasy of THE LORD OF THE RINGS with the battle scenes of GLADIATOR.

The UnPopular Opinion, Drama, Keanu Reeves, Chris Morgan, Carl Rinsch, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Hossein Amini, 47 Ronin, 2013

47 RONIN, which dealt with a 3 month release date push to finalize the 3D visual effects, is the first English-language take on the Japanese legend known as Ch?shinguraWhile this film takes certain liberties with the source material and injects significant fantasy elements, it was not enough to persuade North American or Japanese audiences to check out the film. Unlike "white savior" films like THE LAST SAMURAI or THE GREAT WALL, Keanu Reeves' character Kai is half Japanese and his difference from his peers is a plot point. Even though Rinsch had scenes performed in Japanese and then filmed in English to give the actors a feel for the language, audiences couldn't make heads or tails of what 47 RONIN was supposed to be. Serving as both anachronistic as wel as historically faithful, it is exactly that reason why 47 RONIN is worth checking out: it is unlike anything you have seen before.

Samurai warriors have always been a fascinating subject for movies much like medieval knights. Their code of honor is intriguing and it adds an air of mystery to their persona. With 47 RONIN, the masterless warriors who must band together to dispel evil entities and malicious royals gives this film a similar feel to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, itself based on the Japanese masterpiece SEVEN SAMURAI. It also evokes the visual style of a Studio Ghibli film and may be the closest to a live action Hayo Miyazaki film I have ever seen. The balance of fantasy and period storytelling sometimes can be a difficult balance, but by embracing enough of both for North American audiences may have left Japanese fans cold. But, as an introduction to the vast mythologies of Asian cultures, 47 RONIN serves to do more than just pique interest.

Keanu Reeves character of Kai, an outcast adopted by Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), does not have as much dialogue as you would expect. As far as main characters go, he shares far more in common with Tom Hardy's Mad Max than John Wick. This works to give Kai a mysterious demeanor but also allows him to be an entry point for audiences. His lack of speaking does not take away from his romantic interactions with Mika (Ko Shibasaki) nor his fellow Ronin including Hiroyuki Sanada (AVENGERS: ENDGAME) and Shogun Tsunayoshi played by the great Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. But, the best element of the film is the villainous Witch played by Rinko Kikuchi. Kikuchi, an Oscar-nominated actress who has crossed over to the United States in the film PACIFIC RIM is here a masterful baddie who evokes the stereotypes of fantasy villains but gives Witch some distinct character traits that makes her fascinating and sexy to watch.

47 RONIN is a blend of both genre and tone as it shifts from sprawling action to horror to campy humor and then back to drama and romance. But, like any studio spectacles, it handles each well. What many critics failed ot grasp about the movie is that it doesn't have to fit in just one box. It also means that trailers don't always evoke the right picture of what a movie is trying to be. Because 47 RONIN is trying to do so many things, you need to just go along for the ride. I wish I was able to still enjoy the 3D elements of the film, something that is lost on traditional home entertainment systems, but from the cinematography by John Mathieson (GLADIATOR) to the editing by Stuart Baird (SUPERMAN, SKYFALL0 and the score by Ilan Eshkeri (KICK-ASS), 47 RONIN still looks and sounds as amazing as it did on the big screen.

The UnPopular Opinion, Drama, Keanu Reeves, Chris Morgan, Carl Rinsch, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Hossein Amini, 47 Ronin, 2013

While I am one of the first people to decry the overuse of CGI in big budget filmmaking these days, the candy-colored visuals of 47 RONIN made me a believer that they can look downright amazing when used in the context of a worthy story. 47 RONIN could not have been told nearly as well with traditional effects. The CGI pops in every shot of this beautifully lensed film. Many critics and audiences felt those visuals overshadowed stilted dialogue by the non-native English speaking cast and a dull story, but I find that the script is elevated by what we see on screen. The music, sound editing, and visuals all enhance what is a fairly formulaic plot and gives it an edge that takes it to another level. If 47 RONIN did anything, it proved to me that Keanu Reeves could (and should) have starred in a live action version of AKIRA. His good looks and stoic demeanor is, even six years after 47 RONIN, the perfect archetype for this kind of character. Since we will likely never see that film come to reality, you should revisit 47 RONIN and see how good it could have been.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected] or spell it out in the comments below. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!


About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.