“Last Knights” is a 2015 film directed by Kazuaki Kiriya and written by Michael Konyves and Dove Sussman which is based on the legend of the 47 ronin. Although the film is very pleasant to watch, the low demands of the script relegate it to mediocrity, castrating a highly respected cast that would have deserved a more compelling film.
The Legend of the 47 Ronin
The revenge of the 47 ronin, also known as “Akō jiken”, is a historic eighteenth-century event in feudal Japan in which a band of ronin avenged the death of their Lord. The Daimyo Asano Noganori left forty-seven samurai without a master, who meditated a tremendous revenge against the person who had ordered seppuku to their Lord. Although the people loved this story, so much so that they idealized it for the honor and loyalty shown, all those who took part in the revenge were ordered to take their own lives.
Bartok, the last noble of a great dynasty of the Emperor's vassals, is ordered to present himself to Minister Geza Mott to discuss some urgent matters and to present himself with an appropriate gift. Aware of the rampant corruption in the capital, the noble Bartok, old and without heirs, appoints his heir Raiden, the commander of his troops. He has a past of alcoholism and violence from which he was saved only thanks to hard work and fidelity to his Lord.
Raiden reluctantly agrees to become the heir of the noble Bartok and follows him, along with his knights, to the capital of the empire. Elder Bartok, offended by the humble gift brought, attacks Minister Geza Mott, and is later sentenced to death. This will be the engine of the whole affair.
Cast and Characters
Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen are the undisputed protagonists of this story. Morgan Freeman manages to give us an elegant, noble Bartok, full of dignity and courage both in accepting death and in vindicating his choices. A real shame not having been able to observe this character any longer, he would have really been able to revive the film himself. Unfortunately for plot reasons his death is the one that triggers the whole story.
Clive Owen is in turn a supporting pillar of the narrative, not only because he is the protagonist of the story but also for his looks, for his knowing how to convey despair and honor. In historical films he has always given us excellent performances and probably the role of knight was sewn on him.
Cliff Curtis gives us Cortez, Raiden's lieutenant and his great friend. Part of the story is governed by the disappointment of his gaze and the dignity with which he carries on, carrying on a war abandoned by everything and everyone.
Ayelet Zurer suffers so much from the Japanese imprint of the film, where the role of the woman is relegated to a pleasant tinsel to the narrative. In the very few scenes that see her involved, the Israeli actress proves to be up to the complexity of the character unfortunately not shown. As Raiden's wife, everything emerges: love for a man who has been able to rebuild himself, disappointment in his decisions, fear of losing him, wanting to maintain dignity as a woman.
The aesthetics and mood of the story
The idea of this film is what intrigued me from the first moment: a Japanese-style story with a European aesthetic that only winks at Japan. The empire that is presented to us is indefinite, placed in a vast world and with countless provinces. In this borderless nation, different ethnic groups, clans and cultures coexist. Getting to the capital takes weeks if not months of travel within lawless territories such as immense forests or high mountains.
The castles recall the immense European fortresses and its inhabitants follow the medieval stereotypes. What changes are the weapons and armor, which are somewhere between the two worlds, and of course the fighting. Honor, vengeance and oaths are meant in the oriental way, where a spoken word can put one person to death and decide the fate of another.
The script completely discharges the responsibility of narrating the events to someone else, focusing instead on introducing us to the characters. The story is slow and wants to show a human tragedy and its consequences on people, rather than telling us a compelling story. The story is resolved in a few minutes but in every duel, in every murder, in every quarrel there is a confrontation of visions and characters.
Who is “Last Knights” recommended for?
“Last Knights” is not the movie that will change someone's life and it is absolutely not something that should be watched at all costs. I recommend it to those who like to spend a couple of hours watching a slow movie, which relies more on the immense aesthetic than the script. The duels are beautiful, albeit very short, and photography will give you some satisfaction. This does not mean that it is a film that will please everyone.
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