'47 Ronin' Set Interview: Keanu Reeves Talks Swordplay, Honor & Revenge

When you say “fought that night,” you mean, rather than planned for a year and come back?

Yes, like that night, as soon as what happened... historically, they killed Lord Asano [Naganori] very quickly, if not less than twenty-four hours. He had one appeal and then it was done. Nothing happened to Kira [Yoshinaka]. And that was an outrage! But it’s also different because historically it took place in Edo, or Tokyo, and here it’s outside of that arena. So there’re different rules. But historically, should they have done it that night or should they not have?

You’re working with a lot of Japanese actors. Have you had any conversations with them about the version of the story you’re doing and the fantasy element?

Everyone here who’s doing the film likes the idea of a reinterpretation, likes the idea of telling the story but also making a Hollywood movie and making it fantastical. Penny Rose can talk about that, Jan Roelfs can talk about that, in terms of what are they building to the specs, what are they playing with in terms of costume, what are they keeping, what are they changing, what knots are they doing, etc. And to the story, it’s so different, the circumstances. We’re really playing with some of the bigger ideas of the story.

Do you think there may be some purists out there who don’t want to see a different takes on it?

Well, then they should watch some of the Chushingura (different interpretations of the 47 Ronin tale). 47 Ronin, the story, is a national holiday. It’s huge there. There is that story and I think hopefully with this interpretation, some people will have fun with like, “Oh my God, they did the colors of Lord Asano. Look at those. Or they did that part of it or, Chikara [Oishi] is represented in that one.” We’re doing little pieces, so it could be very high end 47 Ronin drinking game, you know? [laughs]

“Chikara did that! Look, he’s with the arrow!” and then you have a drink. Or if you’re studying it in a university or school, that could be the test. How many things do you see in the Hollywood version, do a contrast and compare on Chushingura and 47 Ronin.

47 Ronin Movie Official Still Fire Samurai Armor

Feudal Japan was very xenophobic so obviously Kai’s status as a half-breed is going to be really important. Can you talk about how his race informs his character and his story?

It’s kind of non-race specific. It’s more about the “other.” In the story I’m discovered by Lord Asano and Oishi when Kai is thirteen years old. We come to learn that, not ‘til later, that he escaped from this place but he’s different. Oishi comes up to me and I’m kind of disheveled and distraught and exhausted by this stream, and I pull a knife on him. He takes my hand and he’s going to use it against me, we haven’t shot the scene yet, or he’s going to stab me. Lord Asano says, “Stop.” Oishi says, “My Lord, it’s a devil!” And Lord Asano says, “It’s a young boy.”

So we’re showing Lord Asano as being someone who is not xenophobic, someone who has a bigger idea. Ako is this kind of Camelot. I get taken in and then we’re shown in the next sequence when I’m older and I’m a tracker. I’m tracking this beast and they’ve found a utility for me. We show that I’m treated differently by different people. Also, when I’m a young boy, I see the princess and the princess sees me. And there’s this moment where she brings me food and then we have this kind of connection that becomes unrequited love. We can’t be together; there’s a certain place we can’t go.

And there’s some samurai who, I’m a dog. And then there’s some who, like Oishi, “He’s a tracking dog.” And then we learn that he can fight. Ha! We learn where I came from, this place where I came from. He needs my help.

For Kai, part of the story is finding the acceptance of the Ronin. Theirs is a story of revenge. Is yours revenge but also proving yourself?

KR: It’s interesting. We end up having the same goal. I think by my actions, they learn about Kai, some of his grace as well as his ferocity and his commitment to what they’re doing. It’s 47 guys. In the end, they accept him, they take a blood oath. I think they have this commonness, this common goal; the idea of honor and revenge. I get a certain kind of acceptance. But there’s a line; I can’t take the princess out for dinner. [laughs]

47 Ronin - Keanu Reeves Red Armor

How do the set pieces compare to some of the other action movies you've been in?

Speed and Point Break were a lot of running and jumping. And then The Matrix trilogy had a lot of fights and wire work and green screen elements. In this piece, there’s a little running and jumping and some fights, so it’s a blend.

I always like hearing you talk about Point Break.

Yeah, Point Break is fantastic! That was my first time. I got to work with the great stunt coordinator, Glenn Wilder, and he was the guy who just said, “We can put you in it. Go! We can put you there.” And then I worked on Speed and Gary Hymes was like, “We can really put you there!” And then I worked on The Matrix and they were like, “You can do it!”


47 Ronin opens on December 6th in Japan and rolls out from there, opening in the U.S. on December 25th.

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