Keanu Reeves' new film 47 Ronin, might just be the Hollywood 3D blockbuster to kick the Matrix star's career back into gear. But what's the story behind the new samurai movie, and how did the Canadian actor wind up in a film based on a classic Japanese legend?
Reeves, along with 47 Ronin director Carl Rinsch and the rest of the cast, appeared in Tokyo on Monday to discuss their adaptation of the beloved local tale. 47 Ronin, which will premiere in Japan weeks ahead of its U.S. opening, is based on a real historical event during the Edo Period that remains one of Japan's most beloved legends.
In the early 1700s, a group of 47 samurai were left without a leader — making them rogue swordsmen, or ronin in Japanese — after their lord was unjustly forced to commit ritual suicide for assaulting a court official. The ronin took it upon themselves to avenge their leader's honor by killing the court official after two years of meticulous planning. Then, having completed their act of vengeance, all 47 ronin were then honor-bound to commit ritual suicide as penance for the murder.
"These themes of revenge, loyalty, perseverance, were things we know from the very beginning were universal," said Rinsch, echoing the same sentiments that have made the story a legend around the world. The tale of the 47 Ronin has been hugely popular since the true events that inspired it, exerting such influence over plays, films and other forms of fiction that stories inspired by the 47 Ronin are now recognized as a distinct genre known as Chushingura. The classic revenge tale has a powerful reputation in the West, as well, though Reeves' 47 Ronin will be the first mainstream Hollywood adaptation.
Rinsch, who will make his directorial feature debut with 47 Ronin, said he and Reeves sat down about two years ago to plan how they would do justice to such a beloved Japanese tale. But don't expect a traditional take on the 47 Ronin legend. Rinsch said he and Reeves sought to make 47 Ronin a story of their own, "a Hollywood blockbuster [seen] through that lens."
And that explains Keanu Reeves' role in the film. The actor plays Kai, a half-Japanese, half-British swordsman with a wild side — a character entirely absent from the original tale. At Reeves' side is Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada as the legendary Kuranosuke Oishi, who led the cause of the actual 47 Ronin. The positioning of the Japanese hero Oishi as a supporting character who deems the foreigner Reeves "the only one who can help" may disturb some audiences, though Sanada offered that he and Reeves worked to depict an alliance that transcended cultural and social differences.
Watch the trailer for 47 Ronin below!
The trailer for 47 Ronin reveals more startling creative liberties, promising a dark fantasy martial arts film only loosely inspired by the historical legend. But despite 47 Ronin's twists and spins, Reeves said the story remains one of people who "share this journey to reclaim their land, their honor, their way." That said, we expect critics, fans and purists to be divided by the star's unusual rewriting of the classic Japanese story.
Reeves will soon make his own directorial debut with a martial arts action movie titles Man of Tai Chi, expected to be released later this year. 47 Ronin premieres in Japan on Dec. 6 and opens in U.S. theaters on Dec. 25.