Timeless tale of courage
Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi talks about her role as The Witch in 47 Ronin, based on the epic Japanese legend
IN the upcoming fantasy-adventure 47 Ronin, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek revenge and restore honour to their people after a treacherous warlord kills their master.
The international cast is led by Keanu Reeves as Kai, a half-breed once rejected by the warriors who have been driven from their homes and are dispersed across the land. The exiled ronin seek Kai’s help as they battle in a savage world of mythic beasts, shape-shifting witchcraft and wondrous terrors.
Based on the epic story of one of Japan’s most enduring legends, this extraordinary tale of unbelievable courage has its origins in the early 18th Century, when 47 noble samurai honoured the untimely death of their master by avenging him.
Joining Reeves is a select cast of Japanese superstars who are not only beloved in their own country but who have also honed their talents across the globe. They are Hiroyuki Sanada (Sunshine, The Last Samurai) as Oishi, the indisputable leader of the samurai, Tadanobu Asano (The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World) as Lord Kira, the treacherous villain who will stop at nothing to destroy his enemies, Academy Award-nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim) as the Witch, a shape-shifting siren who executes Kira’s every request in his search for ultimate power, and Ko Shibasaki (The Lady Shogun And Her Men, One Missed Call) as Mika, the master’s daughter and the love of Kai’s life.
The movie is directed by Carl Rinsch (The Gift) from a screenplay by Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious series, Wanted) and Hossein Amini (Drive, Wings Of The Dove) and a screen story by Chris Morgan and Walter Hamada (The Conjuring, The Final Destination).
Kikuchi, who came to worldwide attention with her stunning performance in Babel and was most recently seen in Pacific Rim, discusses her exposure to the legendary tale: “I’ve known this story since learning about it in school, but this film will be quite different from versions Japanese audiences have seen before.
The creatures, sets and characters are totally new. My character doesn’t exist in the original version, but she adds a fantasy element to the story and I had a lot of fun with it.”
She was thrilled to play such a strong role. “It’s fun to play such a wild female. Carl told me my role would be provocative, sexy and wild. But The Witch is not a typical witch. She has the heart of a woman, but she just follows her instincts.”
Here, she tells us more:
Tell us more about your character
The Witch is in love with her lord and master, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), and uses her powers and abilities to carry out his wishes and desires. However, what she really wants is his attention and his love.
What excites you about being in 47 Ronin?
The cast was amazing and I had never seen a 3D samurai movie. The idea of playing a witch added a fantasy element to the film, as she didn’t exist in the original story.
Do you remember learning about this story?
As a kid, I learnt a lot about it in school and by watching movies and television shows.
Why is this story so enduring in Japan?
I’m not sure but the story and historical occurrences are very dramatic events. There is a reason why the tale is still told today. It is very easy to understand the structure as well as the themes. It is good material for a film or a dramatic interpretation. I think the values shown in the film — courage, love and revenge are universal. We all feel these things in everyday life, no matter what our culture. We are all moved by universal themes. They stretch across generations. My parents and grandparents all share an understanding of these ideals.
What did you think of the script when you first read it?
I liked it. In the first script, the role of the witch was very small, but Carl made it bigger.
How would you describe The Witch’s look?
Carl chose green for my character so I had to wear a green kimono and contact lenses. The look helped me get into my character. This was my first time playing a villain, which was an amazing experience. I would like to play more bad characters in future. I think it is fun to play villains because we have to be nice to everybody in real life. However, if you are playing a villain in a movie, you don’t have to be nice.
What did Keanu bring to the movie?
Keanu was the team leader on the set, which really inspired me. I admire the way he studied Japanese and learnt the samurai movements for his role.
You are an expert sword fighter (as proven in other movies) but in this film, you are one of the few characters who didn’t have to handle a sword.
Yes, I studied Japanese swordplay since I was a kid, but I didn’t use that skill in this movie. My character fights in a different way.
What can you say about Carl Rinsch as a first-time feature director?
He is a very visually talented director. He is able to see images clearly. It is hard to believe that this is his first feature film. He is always so composed and calm and in control. He knows what he wants. As an actor, my priority is more about understanding the character and bringing it to life, using my emotions and past experiences. In that way, to work with such a strong visual director is a new approach for me. Carl can draw out certain expressions and a way of being on screen that is definitely different from other directors that I have worked with.