The ‘samurai go on a quest for revenge after their master is unjustly taken from them’ tale is as old as Mount Fuji, while Hollywood’s attempts at capturing what makes Japanese culture so enticing for Western audiences also has a long history, littered with failure: see Tom Cruise’s ridiculous The Last Samurai for a recent example. So when Keanu Reeves declared that he was set to star in 47 Ronin, based on the historical event you can read about here (the graves in the header photo are those of the real-life ronin) but jumbled together with Lord of the Rings fantasy, big Gladiator battle scenes and – sigh – 3D, the omens were not exactly promising.
Thankfully, the first set of actors announced for the cast are spot on for this type of material. Tadanobu Asano for one is a mightily awesome chap, having played Genghis Khan in Mongol, a formidable ronin in Takeshi Kitano’s mindblowing adaptation of Zatōichi, and will be appearing in Thor later this year. Rinko Kikuchi is best known in the West for her Oscar-nominated turn in Babel, making her the first Japanese actress in fifty years to receive such acknowledgment, and as near-mute explosives expert Bang-Bang in The Brothers Bloom. Hiroyuki Sanada was the lead in the terrific Twilight Samurai, which unjustly lost out on the Foreign Language Oscar to Canadian meanderer Les Invasions Barbares, while Kou Shibasaki played the utterly deranged schoolgirl Mitsuko in Battle Royale. According to a Universal press release, Sanada will be playing clan chief Oishi, Asano a treacherous lord, Kikuchi his wife and Shibasaki the love interest for Keanu’s Kai.
How 47 Ronin will turn out remains anyone’s guess, but you’d be a damn foo’ to overlook a cast backed up by that kind of history.