The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
The Mad Men season five premiere revealed that Don Draper has gone through a lot of changes in the previous year. He's married Megan, traded in his suburban home for a mod 60s apartment, and acquired yet another Bobby. The episode featured actor Mason Vale Cotton as Don's son, making him the fourth actor to play the role. Maxwell Huxabee and Aaron Hart played Bobby in season one, then Jared S. Gilmore managed to remain on the show for two whole seasons. However, during Mad Men's long hiatus, Gilmore left to take a role in the series Once Upon a Time, bringing back the Drapers' middle child mayhem.
Outside of soap operas, Bobby Draper may be the most re-cast TV role in history, but the practice actually dates back to the Mad Men era. The most infamous re-cast is that of Darrin Stephens in Bewitched. The role was originated by Dick York, but when a back injury forced him out of the show, Darrin magically reappeared as Dick Sargent. Some complained the show was never the same, just as when The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air swapped Janet Hubert-Whitten for Daphne Maxwell Reid as Aunt Viv. While the character was originally an outspoken career woman, she was reincarnated as an easygoing stay-at-home mom and started making fewer appearances on the show. Most recently, the twins Jaden and Ella Hiller, who played Lily in the first two seasons of Modern Family,were pulled from the show because they didn't enjoy acting. Four-year-old Aubrey Anderson-Emmons took over the role.
Often, shows play re-casts for laughs. Sarah Chalke replaced Lecy Goranson as Becky Connor on Roseanne, but Goranson returned to the role occasionally. Asking Becky "Where the hell have you been?" became a running gag, and both actresses made an appearance in the show's finale. That '70s Show followed suit after Lisa Robin Kelly left the role of Eric's sister Laurie and was replaced by Christina Moore. Eventually the character was phased out entirely and characters started giving excuses for why she never appeared on screen. Having two Martas and two Anns in Arrested Development actually made sense thanks to the show's use of meta comedy. Marta starred in Spanish language soaps, in which actors are frequently re-cast, and Ann's replacement underscored how forgettable she was.
Frequent re-casting definitely isn't the worst fate to befall a TV character. In fact, Bobby Draper should consider himself lucky, since so far he's avoided another danger for TV kids. After being re-cast, Richie's older brother Chuck on Happy Days was sent off to college and never spoken of again. If Bobby doesn't watch, it Sally might literally make her little brother disappear.
[Paper Mag, People]