by Shugyōsha Hnetka
Since the beginning of cinema, white actors have played non-white roles. Asian characters, First Nations characters, black characters — you name it and Hollywood’s found a whitey to act it. There’s Charlie Chan — novelist Earl Derr Biggers’ brilliant Chinese-American detective, created as an antidote to “yellow peril” stereotypes — who’s been played almost exclusively by Caucasian actors including Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Peter Ustinov. The evil James Bond villain Dr. No? He’s supposedly Asian but he was played by a white Canadian. Should we mention Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger? Let’s not. But we can talk about Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin. Reeves doesn’t play someone who’s Japanese but… well, let’s just say that he might not be the worst part of the film.
The tale of the 47 ronin is an actual, historical Japanese event where an unfairly condemned lord was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). His clan was disbanded and dishonoured, and his loyal retainers became ronin (masterless samurai). Naturally, they plot to kill the jerk responsible to restore the clan’s honour and get some sweet, sweet revenge.
This story has been told countless times: there have been at least seven films (I’ve seen four), countless plays, novels and, recently, a comic drawn by Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo). I recommend any of these versions to people interested in the story. Hiroshi Inagaki’s 1962 movie Chūsingura might be my favourite.
I do NOT recommend the upcoming 47 Ronin, a fantastical take on the story starring Reeves as a half-Japanese man battling monsters and an evil witch who turns into a dragon. There are explosions in this movie. My initial reaction to the trailer was something along the lines of, “What the fuck!?” Days later, that’s still my response to this travesty. So an Hollywood actor of miscellaneous ethnic ancestry is the only one who can save the day? Screw that. Even with witches, historical Japan doesn’t need Reeves’ help. I hope this bombs.
WHEN NERDS RULED THE EARTH
The San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone and, like previous years, the emphasis was on upcoming Hollywood movies rather than the industry that originally started the convention. The big news this year seems to be the new title for Avengers 2, now called Avengers: Age of Ultron. I guess that means that the villain will be the evil robot Ultron? Speaking of robots from Marvel comics, Fox revealed the design of the giant Sentinels from next summer’s blockbuster X-Men: First Class. Finally, we learned that the sequel to Man of Steel will feature Batman. I guess DC needs to do something to seem cool as they try to catch up to Marvel. Good luck with that.