Trailer Tuesdays: 47 Ronin

Hey, did you guys know that Keanu Reeves is Japanese? Or that people in feudal Japan spoke English? Yeah, I didn’t either. I’m so glad racism is dead and whitewashing is over.

I also wasn’t aware that Keanu Reeves could act. Maybe this time, he’ll play a character other than Neo.

Ink already talked about this trailer a while back, and he outlined exactly everything wrong with it in a much better way than I ever could. I agree with everything he said. Not only do we once again have a movie about the white man coming in and saving a bunch of non-Caucasians from an evil threat by a villain of color, this trailer also doesn’t lead me to believe that this has anything to do with Japanese history or culture, which is what it’s based on.

To me, this looks more like an inaccurate Western representation—it’s not going to be about a bunch of people fighting for honor in a way that actually means something and makes a statement about what is right and wrong; it’ll probably be about a bunch of guys fighting to regain their honor in typical Hollywood style. I think Ink says it best:

What’s important about this is that the [original] story upholds certain cultural values, ones which Japanese people have found central and edifying. It’s about a group of warriors acting out of loyalty, and choosing what they deem a form of honor higher than the shoguns’ approval. It’s not really a story about an individual. There are individual characters, of course, but the story is about doing right by more traditional values, about sacrifice for clan and lord, not personal revenge.

All this is really a shame, because the movie doesn’t look like it would be that bad otherwise. It actually looks really cool and interesting, but the amount of cultural wrongness sure to be in it just ruins that. And it really doesn’t help that Keanu Reeves is playing the lead character. The trailer itself attempts to address this issue by acknowledging he’s a “half breed” and showing how much of an outcast he is because of that, but that does not make it better.

47-ronin-posters-featuredHere’s why: though nowhere near as prevalent as it used to be, there is still a lot of animosity for Japanese people by Americans floating around, especially among older generations. I think some of this dislike—if not most of it—originated in WWII. The Japanese army was very cruel and a lot of atrocities were committed. It was a rather terrible time, and even after Japan surrendered, plenty of hard feelings were going around. One thing that I always hear about when this issue comes up is how the Japanese treated their prisoners of war—very badly.

And yes, there are certainly plenty of other grievances between our two countries that have fueled this dislike and distrust that unfortunately still persist today in many circles. So while it is historically true that Japan has a rather xenophobic history and tends to ostracize people who are not considered fully Japanese, we don’t need a movie showing us how poorly an ostensibly white man is treated at the hands of bunch of “evil” Japanese people. We just don’t. We don’t need to keep this racist and entirely outdated mindset going.

And before anyone says anything, I know that Keanu Reeves is not completely Caucasian. He has Irish, Chinese, Hawaiian, and Portuguese ancestry. We can probably safely call him a minority as well. However, in comparison to the other characters in the film, he looks significantly white, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that, mixed with his Chinese heritage, is what got him the role. This also calls into another problem. How hard would it have been to cast someone of Japanese ancestry? The habit of casting people of Chinese decent for Japanese roles, or just interchanging Asian people in general for movies, really bothers me. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that many people in America think they all look the same, so therefore they think it’s okay to do this.

I couldn’t stand Memoirs of Geisha for plenty of reasons, but what really did it for me was the main actress. I took one look at Zhang Ziyi as Sayuri and knew she wasn’t Japanese. That was as apparent to me as Tom Cruise being the last samurai. That’s also my biggest issue with this movie. Keanu Reeves just isn’t Japanese—being Chinese and Hawaiian is not the same thing—and even if he does a good job with this role, the fact remains that the character was still racebent.

I know this type of casting doesn’t bother some people the way it does me, and to be honest, I don’t care when Australians are cast as Norse Gods or when British actors play American doctors. So by itself, while it’s a deal-breaker for me, Keanu Reeves being of Chinese decent is probably not that big a deal. No, the really big deal is that he is still ostensibly white, and most movie-goers are not going to know he’s part Chinese just by looking at him, just as most people aren’t going to look at Johnny Depp and think, “hey, that man’s totally part Cherokee.” So what it comes down to is that we once again are stuck with a white savior character sweeping in to save a bunch of minorities who are hopeless without some much needed white intervention.

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About MadameAce

I draw, I write, I paint, and I read. I used to be really into anime and manga until college, where I fell out of a lot of my fandoms to pursue my studies. College was also the time I discovered my asexuality, and I have been fascinated by different sexualities ever since. I grew up in various parts of the world, and I've met my fair share of experiences and cultures along the way. Sure, I'm a bit socially awkward and not the easiest person to get along with, but I do hold great passion for my interests, and I can only hope that the things I have to talk about interest you as well.

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