One of the joys of Netflix is that films that previously failed to find an audience in theaters will sometimes get a second chance to capture the viewers that eluded them the first time. Such is the case with 47 Ronin, the 2013 action film starring Keanu Reeves. At the time of this post, 47 Ronin has risen to No. 4 on Netflix’s top 10 most popular movies of the week list. And if you haven’t seen it yet, we’re here to tell you why 47 Ronin is worth watching on Netflix.
The film 47 Ronin is loosely inspired by a true story from 17th-century Japan in which a lord was forced to commit suicide by one of his political enemies. In response, 47 of the lord’s disgraced samurai hatched a long-term plan to avenge their fallen master, even though they knew the attempt was illegal and that they would be put to death if they succeeded. The film adds fantasy elements to the story, but the most important addition was Reeves himself.
Reeves hasn’t been hard up for work in Hollywood since he first broke in during the ’80s. However, his career has had some down periods, particularly after he finished the first three films in The Matrix series. And 47 Ronin had the bad timing to arrive in late 2013, a mere 10 months before John Wick once again made Reeves into an action icon. Would this film have had a better box-office performance if John Wick had come first? It’s certainly possible.
Interestingly, 47 Ronin is one of the few films that plays into Reeves’ biracial identity (although it should be noted that Reeves is not actually half-Japanese). In the movie, Reeves’ character is Kai, a half-English and half-Japanese orphan who is brought into the household of Lord Naganori Asano (Min Tanaka). And before you ask, yes, Kai was created for the film and he is not a part of the original historical account.
Historical accuracy doesn’t matter, because he’s Keanu. And this is a very reserved performance by Reeves, whose character doesn’t speak unless he has to. There is also a love subplot about Kai’s love for Lord Asano’s daughter, Mika Asano (Ko Shibasaki). But this is an action flick, and Reeves does not disappoint as a samurai warrior.
Considering that Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Babel, she isn’t as well-known in America as she deserves to be. A few months prior to 47 Ronin‘s release, Kikuchi had a fan-favorite turn as Mako Mori in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. But in this film, Kikuchi gets to be absolutely unhinged as Mizuki, a witch who helps Lord Yoshinaka Kira (Tadanobu Asano) take down Lord Asano with her dark magic.
Naturally, there were no witches in the original account of the 47 Ronin, but Kikuchi’s performance is so much fun that few could argue against her inclusion here. She’s the one who gets to be over-the-top evil and mysterious. And that’s why she’s so delightful to watch.
Unfortunately, 47 Ronin was considered a box-office failure because it couldn’t come close to recouping its $175 million dollar budget. Ironically, the high budget for the film’s action and visual effects is one of the reasons why fans are rediscovering it now. This movie stands out from the pack on Netflix because it’s really beautiful to look at, and the action is great. And if samurai showdowns aren’t enough for you, there’s also a touch of magic and fantasy between the witch and some giant-like beings.
This movie wasn’t designed to be the start of a franchise, especially given the way that it ends. And yet there is actually a Netflix original film that serves as a sequel: Blade of the 47 Ronin. That movie takes place 300 years in the future. But for our money, we still prefer the original.
47 Ronin is now streaming on Netflix.