Why it flopped? It is obvious, its a movie not made for the mainstream. It was a lousy attempt by Hollywood to portray a Japanese tale, of honour, vengeance and Budo.
Especially Budo, what does Hollywood knows about Budo? The last Hollywood Samurai flick I can remember was The Last Samurai, by the marketable Tom Cruise. Personally I feel that didn’t even come close to defining the spirit of Budo.
True to Hollywood spirit, both shows have massive fight scenes. Well choreographed and quite sustained sword sparring session. A duel between 2 Samurais would be a quick one, if you can catch Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi, you can imagine a duel between 2 Samurais, quick draw of the sword, and the living and dead is decided, that’s it, no swash buckling, sword sparring duel. But Hollywood wants action, because, audiences wants action, blood, violence, explosion, killing and drama. Budo, unfortunately is none of that.
Budo, in my humble opinion, don’t sell movie tickets well. It is a quiet contemplation, a “still water, deep water” attitude. No magic, no fanfare, things go about quietly, and decisions made, swiftly. There is a lot of boring training, rituals and very little drama.
But one thing 47 Ronin did was to bring to the big screen in digital colour, the ritual of Seppuku. I think this part, the movie makers tried to stay as true to the actual ritual as possible, and that I think we can give them credit. However, again, if you are not properly schooled in Japanese martial arts and have a certain appreciation of Budo, Seppuku, will appear as a simple act of committing suicide, and having 46 grown and well trained men kill themselves is simply such a waste of talents.
It is more than that. To them it is always ‘Death before dishonour’ and since they regard honour higher than life and death, they orientate themselves around honour and how they can continue with honour. Making a dishonourable mistake cannot be made honourable by cleaning up the mistake, to continue living, after a dire mistake is made, is to live a wasted life, a dishonoured life. This is especially important to the Samurai’s lineage, they cannot have one spot of their lineage being continued by a person who screwed up, the person has to die, to restore the honour in the Samurai’s blood line.
A simple conversation goes like this.Samurai A: “Hey, you heared that Samurai D accidentally broke Samurai E’s sword?”
Samurai B: ” Yeah, I heard and when Samurai D was confronted, he commited Seppuku to restore the honour of his family.”
Samurai A: “Oh, at least he paid for his folly with his life.”
Something like that.
Point is, I think credit ought to be given to the movie for trying to depict Seppuku in film, and the meaning behind the ritual is deep, far beyond the screen. There is so much meaning in the unspoken. Not even love is greater than honour. The character Kai, played by Keanu Reeves, didn’t have a ‘happily ever after’ with his love interest. Their consolation was this life is a preparation for the next. So Kai will still have to commit Seppuku, and hope that in the next life he will be reunited with his loved one. It is profound and it reveals a little to us about the Japanese spirit. It is everlasting, life now is a matter of living it the best we can, and if we screw up, don’t bother cleaning it up, the mess will clean itself up, time will make sure of that. We have to live with a clean and honourable spirit, and once it is tainted, we have to reset it again, and the ritual of Seppuku is central to living our lives in the most honourable way possible.