Release Date: 12/25/13
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi, Kou Shibasaki, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
An imaginative retelling of the classic Japanese tale that introduces witchcraft and supernatural beings into the mix. Kai (Keanu Reeves) is a half-breed human boy, raised by the Tengu and trained to be a fierce killer. Not wanting to be used as an instrument of death, he flees the forest and is rescued and adopted by a kind daimyo named Asano. The wicked lord Kira wants Asano's land and sets a trap for him with the aid of a venomous witch (Rinko Kikuchi). Kai attempts to alert his lord of the danger, but no one believes him and the trap is sprung. In order to avenge their master and rescue lady Mika (Kou Shibasaki) from Kira's clutches, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) enlists Kai's aid and assembles a group of 47 ronin to attack Kira's fortress. The punishment for their act of revenge is seppuku, which the emperor (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) graciously grants them.
Unfortunately, the film never seems to gel, and the pacing feels sluggish despite the numerous action sequences. The visual effects are good, but are mostly unnecessary and tend to derail the plot with their outrageousness. The generic sounding music score attempts to build and maintain tension, but only succeeds in being unmemorable. While Keanu Reeves is given star billing, the film really belongs to the charismatic Hiroyuki Sanada. He gives a strong and solid performance, and adds class and dignity to the production. Rinko Kikuchi is pretty, but her performance is way too forceful and over the top to take seriously. Kou Shibasaki is beautiful and adds a romantic angle to the story, but is sadly relegated to a damsel in distress role. The battle scenes are pretty good and Sanada's swordwork is very impressive. Reeves manages to hold his own and is convincing with a blade, especially during his fight with Sanada. Whether this is due to his talent, Jeff Imada's choreography, or visual effects is unknown and ultimately irrelevant. While it's a marginally entertaining film to watch, it feels aimless and tedious at times. It also suffers from a deceptive trailer that features several scenes that aren't in the film, which implies a certain lack of confidence in the material. Younger audiences may enjoy the visual spectacle, but fans of Japanese cinema and samurai lore will likely find it lacking.