47 RONIN Production Notes
Universal Pictures has released production notes and photos for 47 RONIN. The movie will open in North America on December 25, 2013. Distributor Toho Towa will release the film in Japan on December 6th…
Universal Pictures presents — in association with Relativity Media — Keanu Reeves in 47 RONIN, starring Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki. The music is by Ilan Eshkeri, and the costume design is by Penny Rose. 47 RONIN is edited by Stuart Baird, ACE, and its production designer is Jan Roelfs. The director of photography is John Mathieson, BSC, and the executive producers are Scott Stuber, Chris Fenton, Walter Hamada. 47 RONIN is produced by Pamela Abdy, p.g.a., and Eric McLeod. The film’s screenplay is by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini, and the screen story is by Chris Morgan & Walter Hamada. 47 RONIN is directed by Carl Rinsch. © 2013 Universal Studios.
KEANU REEVES leads an all-star international cast in the action-adventure 47 RONIN. After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and restore honor to their people. Driven from their homes and dispersed across the land, this band of Ronin must seek the help of Kai (Reeves) — a half-breed they once rejected — as they fight their way across a savage world of mythic beasts, shape-shifting witchcraft and wondrous terrors.
As this exiled, enslaved outcast becomes their most deadly weapon, he will transform into a hero who inspires this band of outnumbered rebels to confront the evil taking over their land and seize eternity.
Based upon the epic story that has become 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 honored the untimely death of their master by avenging him.
In this groundbreaking reimagining of the national legend of Japan — a fascinating tale that has been passed along and elaborated upon through different interpretations in various media across the ages — the legend of the Ronin’s ultimate sacrifice and undying honor is now reborn for an entirely new generation.
Joining Reeves for this epic 3D action-adventure are a select cast of Japanese superstars who are not only beloved in their native country, but who have 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, their master’s daughter and the impossible, eternal love of Kai’s life.
With 47 RONIN, director CARL RINSCH (The Gift) brings to life the stunning landscapes and enormous battles that display the timeless story in a way that’s never been seen before. Joining him for the film are producers PAMELA ABDY (Identity Thief, Endless Love) and ERIC McLEOD (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Unstoppable), and the team works 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).
Rinsch leads an accomplished behind-the-scenes crew comprised of two-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer JOHN MATHIESON (Gladiator, Robin Hood), two-time Oscar-nominated production designer JAN ROELFS (Fast & Furious 6, World Trade Center), editor STUART BAIRD (Skyfall, Casino Royale), costume designer PENNY ROSE (Evita, Pirates of the Caribbean series), special effects supervisor PAUL CORBOULD (Captain America: The First Avenger, Mamma Mia!), Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor CHRISTIAN MANZ (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Nanny McPhee Returns) and composer ILAN ESHKERI (Stardust, Kick-Ass).
47 RONIN is executive produced by Bluegrass Films’ SCOTT STUBER (Ted, Identity Thief), CHRIS FENTON (Whisper, The Vatican Tapes) and Walter Hamada.
HALF-BLOODS AND MYTHICAL CREATURES: Who’s Who in 47 RONIN
Kai is an outsider in an ethereal 1800s Japan, a world of intense brutality and undeniable beauty, a time when history and fantasy meet. When his forbidden love is stolen from him, he is left broken and lost. Navigating a breathtaking landscape populated with seductive witches with nightmarish powers, mythic beasts and a deadly secret society of demon monks, Kai must join a brotherhood of outsiders on their shared mission of revenge. Below is a brief guide to those who play a part in this fantastic reimagining of an ancient world:
Kai (Keanu Reeves) is an orphan who grew up in the village of Ako, where he was rejected for being a half-blood. Trained as a child by supernatural creatures called the Tengu, Kai fled when he realized that he did not want to become like them. Rescued from the forest by Lord Asano, he is an agile fighter who is secretly in love with Asano’s daughter, Mika. When his master is tricked into an early death, Kai joins Oishi and the Ronin (masterless samurai) to seek vengeance upon the treacherous Lord Kira. Little do they know that their new leader fights with the power of a demon and holds secrets that will change their destinies.
Lord Asano (MIN TANAKA) is a feudal lord who rules the Ako province with a strong-yet-fair fist. He and his samurai came upon 13-year-old Kai in the forest and took Kai in when the half-blood was but a child. Asano has witnessed the growing attraction between his daughter and Kai, but tradition dictates that this union shall never be allowed in this lifetime.
Mika (Ko Shibasaki) is Lord Asano’s daughter and has been in love with Kai ever since they met as children. She will do anything to protect the stranger shunned by almost everyone in her village, even if it means being forced to marry Lord Kira to save Kai’s life.
Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is Lord Asano’s topranking samurai officiant. When Asano is forced to commit ritual suicide — after he is falsely accused of attacking fellow feudal Lord Kira — Oishi and his fellow samurai are forced to live as Ronin. Traveling the countryside for several years, Oishi gathers the Ronin to help avenge their master’s death. As he realizes what he must do, Oishi sees that the last person he wants to join their ranks is the very warrior who he needs most: Kai.
Lord Kira’s (Tadanobu Asano) ancestors sacrificed their lives to put the Shogun’s family on the throne. While Kira has a place by the Shogun’s side, he is feverishly jealous that his master has chosen to honor Lord Asano’s province of Ako. With the help of the Witch, Kira plots to bring down Asano, marry Asano’s daughter, Mika, and take control of Ako province… watching his ill-begotten empire grow piece by piece.
The Witch (Rinko Kikuchi) is an evil, shapeshifting ancient creature who does Lord Kira’s bidding and uses reality as her plaything. Kira commands the seductive siren to use her powers to transform into other people and creatures to help him bring down the house of Lord Asano and achieve his goal to dominate the country. Her gleaming blue eye remains in any form that she takes.
Chikara (JIN AKANISHI) is Oishi’s 16-yearold son, a young man who yearns to be an honorable samurai like his father. Kai secretly trains Chikara in the ways of the Tengu and teaches him unconventional fighting techniques that will one day save him. Young Chikara accompanies his father to help the Ronin avenge their master’s death.
Shogun Tsunayoshi (CARY-HIROYUKI TAGAWA) is the lord of the provinces and master of all Japan. Lord Asano welcomes the Shogun, along with the other daimyos (feudal lords), to Ako and hosts a gathering to display solidarity between the clans. In honor of the Shogun’s visit, Asano holds a tournament between the clans’ best fighters. Yet, disgrace will come soon enough to Asano, and a price must be paid.
The armored giant Brute (NEIL FINGLETON) who fights for Lord Kira is clad in battle gear inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s most horrific delirium. This virtually indestructible warrior stands almost eight-feet tall in his armor, rides a monstrous warhorse and wields his black sword with lightning speed. It’s thought that no one of this Earth can possibly stop him… not even Kai.
Commanded by the Tengu Lord (TOGO IGAWA), the Tengu monks are supernatural creatures that live in the Tengu Forest, also known as the “sea of trees.” They raised Kai after his mother abandoned him as a baby and taught him how to fight at the speed of light. When the Ronin seek revenge for their master’s death, the Tengu are the creatures to whom they come for the only weapons that could possibly take down Kira’s massive, unstoppable army.
The tortured Ogre (Neil Fingleton) makes his home on a man-made Dutch island, which is comprised of European vessels and hosts a trading post that is a labyrinth of vice and iniquity. This devil-like demon has a huge red body and fights helpless prisoners in an arena on the island. Next up on his fight-card list? Kai.
Foreman (RICK GENEST) is the master of the fantasy freak show whose entire body is illustrated with gothic body art. A subversive outlaw who runs a fight den that pits man against monster for sheer entertainment, he gets more than he bargained for when Kai enters the ring against the Ogre.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
SEIZING ETERNITY: The Ronin Are Reborn
When director Carl Rinsch read the original treatment of the script, he admits he was intrigued by the timeless love, elaborate settings and fantastical creatures that were set against an actual historical backdrop. Recalls the filmmaker: “I knew a bit about the story of the Ronin, the traditional history of it, but of course this is a creative iteration of that.” After meeting with Universal to discuss, Rinsch was sold on the project that he wanted to make as his feature debut.
For producer Pamela Abdy, the script offered a unique tale of a savage world and a man who would sacrifice everything to save it. She reflects: “The story’s themes of honor, revenge and love are universal ideas, and we can see ourselves in these characters and their emotions, yearnings and injustices. Through our hero’s journey, we are transported into an imaginative fantasy adventure. But at its heart, the film taps into a basic human desire to right a wrong being done to you.”
Not only were the filmmakers seeking to craft a production that would entertain audiences, they were committed to honor the national story of a country. The 47 Ronin legend is beloved in Japan; indeed, banks and schools close each year to honor these men who gave their lives for their country. The story has been passed down through the generations, and tradition not only allows, but encourages the story of the Ronin to be elaborated upon through different media, via creative accounts known as Chushingura. Each telling and interpretation retains the historical construct of the Ronin, and tradition invites artistic embellishments to it.
Discussing this time-honored method, Rinsch offers: “The tradition of Chushingura is the retelling of the historical events of the 47 Ronin. It was our goal to maintain and respect the fundamental emotions and themes of the true history, but to view it through a lens that made it relevant to contemporary audiences. The global audience for movies today speaks in a vernacular of fantasy, science fiction and superheroes. For myself, the intent was to take Japanese Chushingura and give it a broad international reach by presenting it in a fashion that utilizes this new Hollywood palette.”
Producer Eric McLeod agrees with Abdy and Rinsch about being fascinated by the tale passed down through generations and honoring the collective story of a country. The filmmaker notes: “What inspired me about working on 47 RONIN was that I not only enjoy the historical aspect of the film, but I also enjoy the fantasy aspect, the scope and the world creation of it.”
When researching the film, the director drew inspiration from the art of such masters as Miyazaki, Hokusai and Hiroshige. Comments Rinsch: “When I studied these paintings, I saw that there was a whole fantasy world right there. And I thought, ‘If I can express this world, then we’re onto something.’”
From there, Rinsch and his team began to investigate the fantasy aspects of 47 RONIN, including creatures that have long been a part of Japanese folklore. They were amazed by the voluminous libraries they found. Notes Rinsch: “You have the Yokai; the Oni, which is a big Japanese ogre; the Tengu warriors, which are bird warriors. There’s this menagerie of fantasy characters that gave us such exciting directions to explore.”
As the filmmakers locked the shooting script and began pre-production, they found that the key was balancing scale with character. Shares Abdy: “The story embraces the emotions of love, pain and sorrow, and the story needs to be quiet in those moments. Then when we need to, it has to be big and bold as well. Tonally, we tried to balance action and spectacle with characters coming together and relating to each other.”
DISCOVERING KAI: Keanu Reeves Comes Aboard
One of the earliest efforts involved in casting 47 RONIN was to find a performer with the presence, physicality and stamina to play the demanding role of the film’s hero, Kai, a figure of two worlds. Keanu Reeves, beloved by worldwide audiences for his work in blockbuster epics such as The Matrix trilogy, in which he gave a human center to a complex and imaginative fantasy world, was an ideal choice and became a true partner in the production.
“We sought Keanu very early on,” states Abdy. “He was on board almost two-and-a-half years before we started shooting and has always been a partner through the whole process. He’s not only the right actor but has been such an enthusiastic contributor to many aspects of the production.”
“I was attracted to the world it created,” shares Reeves. “I related to it as a Westerner. It’s a film that has big, universal themes such as honor, revenge and love.” In fact, Reeves worked on developing the script with writers Morgan and Amini, actually before meeting with Rinsch for the first time. He shares: “Chris and Hossein have this incredible ability to bring this amazing version of the Ronin to life that straddles the real and the fantastic.”
Upon sitting down with Rinsch, Reeves was struck by his vision for the project and his fluency in the visual language needed to bring the story to life. The performer commends: “Carl’s always had a connection to the film that is based in emotion, and he’s been open to sharing and collaborating. He’s a terrific stylist, and he’s been great at taking this fictional make-believe world and making it a real one.”
Rinsch was equally as enthusiastic about working with his leading man. He enthuses: “Keanu is more than just an actor. He’s a collaborator on every level. He’s somebody whom I can turn to and ask a question, get a thoughtful response, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with his character.”
For this reimaging of the 47 Ronin tale, and in keeping with Chushingura, the character of Kai is a new addition to the canon. An orphaned half-blood who trusts no one, Kai symbolizes the eternal outsider, struggling to fit into a culture rooted in its deep sense of nationality. Reeves says that Kai’s tale is familiar to many: “On this journey, Kai strives to be included and accepted; that’s a story a lot of people can relate to. This kind of immigrant story is relatable: that yearning for acceptance while retaining your individuality.” For the performer, it is an honor to introduce the tale to a global audience. He reflects: “Like all great stories, this one works in the sense of its universality.”
AN INTERNATIONAL ENSEMBLE: Supporting Cast
For Rinsch, the producers and Reeves, rounding out the cast meant painstakingly choosing the best and the brightest of Asian cinema. From action veterans and feted Oscar nominees to rising stars on the pop music scene, the filmmakers handpicked an exciting cross section of performers for the epic feature.
A staple in Japanese films who was most recently seen in the worldwide blockbuster The Wolverine, Hiroyuki Sanada has received six nominations for Japanese Academy Awards, and has won twice. For the cast and crew, the selection of Sanada as Oishi, the leader of the samurai, meant this Western twist on the story of the 47 RONIN had earned the seal of Japanese approval. Sanada bore the responsibility of making sure this new take on the beloved tale stayed true to its source, even as it introduced fresh and fantastical elements.
Sanada grew up with the legend and appreciated the opportunity to explore a retelling of it. He shares: “I first saw it on television when I was about seven. My brother and I used to pretend we were the characters. When I became a child actor, I always wondered when I would play Oishi. I waited a long time, and to be offered the role in an American film was quite a welcome surprise!
“There was a lot of pressure for me because Oishi has been played by a lot of actors I admire,” Sanada adds. “But this version has a lot of differences to the traditional one. The emotion and intention are the same, but Oishi is much more human here, with weakness, doubt and setbacks. There’s a balance between authenticity and fantasy, and this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce the story to a younger Japanese audience, as well as Japanese culture to the world. There’s something in there for people of every country. It’s not just a Japanese story. It’s about respect, friendship and love.”
Having worked on several Western films and with multiple American filmmakers, Sanada reflects on the experience of shooting with Rinsch: “On the first day of working with Carl, I realized that he not only watched and listened, but he has a gift for feeling the emotion of a scene.”
Rinsch provides insight into why Sanada was chosen to play the warrior who fights alongside Kai: “Oishi’s character is a lamp in daylight. You don’t know how strong he is until it gets dark. I think Hiro Sanada is such a stoic and powerful performer; he explodes into action when things get rough. He can fight like nobody you’ve ever seen before.”
For his part, Sanada is just as enthusiastic about the experience of collaborating with the film’s leading man. “From the rehearsal period on we spent a lot of time together, some six months,” he reflects. “We prepared dialogue and practiced a lot of fight scenes, so physically and mentally we shared a lot. Keanu is always very calm and respectful. I respect him very much, as an actor and as a person.”
Reeves returns the kind words with a concise: “I didn’t have a brother before, but I have one now.”
Producer Abdy extrapolates that Sanada was a mentor for those on set: “Hiroyuki embodies the role of Oishi. He’s a wonderfully generous actor and has been so incredibly helpful to us in embracing the world and understanding the culture. He handles everything with grace, style and elegance, and he brings that to his performance.”
To play Mika, Kai’s forbidden love interest, the filmmakers wanted an actress who could embody a regal princess who’s willing to defy tradition. They turned to one of Japan’s musical phenoms, the multi-talented Ko Shibasaki. Rinsch reflects: “Ko was somebody I did not know before we started the process. She has a huge career as a singer and has a huge facility for acting. She has done an amazing job, and I expect she will go on to be even more legendary in every avenue she pursues.”
Reeves sums up the relationship between Kai and Mika: “The outsider and the princess: an impossible love. Because it’s jeopardized and unfulfilled, Kai’s yearning for Mika is what drives a lot of this story.” Working with Shibasaki has been a highlight of filming for Reeves. He shares: “Ko is such a rock star. She can do anything. She has such vulnerability, elegance and beauty in her performance.”
In taking on the role, Shibasaki saw an opportunity for Hollywood to tell a Japanese story from a fresh perspective. She states: “Japanese people tend to be shy and don’t always express their opinions openly. Carl always encouraged me to feel and express things more, and to bring out my natural expressions. He’s a kind, broadminded person, which is why I think it was so easy to dive right in and take risks.”
Mika is desired not only by Kai, but also by the villainous Lord Kira, who seeks to claim all the land that belongs to Lord Asano. To portray the antagonist, the filmmakers brought aboard Tadanobu Asano, who has crossed the globe with one of his breakout, signature portrayals in Ichi the Killer and rocketed to international fame as Thor’s fellow Asgardian, Hogun, in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World.
Asano explains a bit about his character’s motivation: “Mika is a very important person in Ako. By controlling the princess he would be able to obtain Ako, which is something that he has always wanted. On a more personal level, he sees in Mika a quality of love that he doesn’t possess; he wants to somehow control that power to love that she symbolizes.”
Asano has long had a connection to the 47 Ronin story. In fact, he shares a name with the feudal lord at the heart of the story. The performer offers: “When I was growing up, the story would appear very often on television or in a film and my grandmother would say, ‘You’re an Asano, too.’ It’s ironic that I ended up playing the opposite role!”
Instead, as the villainous Lord Kira, Asano claims he found a simple way to identify with his dark charge. He explains: “He might appear to be power-mad and arrogant, but if you change your perspective a little he can be seen as a very charming man. There is, of course, something fundamentally wrong with him, but that makes him a very interesting character to play.”
Asano believes the film should have a life of its own separate from the many Japanese interpretations. He explains: “Because this is such a popular story in Japanese culture, it has been portrayed in many different mediums and in many different versions. All of these have followed a set of unspoken rules about the story. Carl is from a different culture, so he brings a completely new perspective and he is able to distill the story down to its universal themes. He has created something original that is true to the themes of the story and also breathes new life into it.”
While Asano and Reeves do not share any dialogue on screen, Reeves enjoyed watching him work. He laughs: “He’s such a good bad guy. He treats life like everything belongs to him. I saw this close-up of him watching some dancers perform, and it was like he was saying, ‘Of course you’re dancing for me. Everything is for me: The moon’s for me; the sun’s for me.’”
Oscar-nominated Rinko 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 at school, but this film will be quite different from versions Japanese audiences have seen before. The creatures, sets and characters are totally new.” Brought onto the production to play the duplicitous Witch, the actress knew there would be challenging days ahead. “My character doesn’t exist in the original version, but she adds a fantasy element to this story and I had a lot of fun with it.”
Kikuchi was thrilled to play such a strong role. The actress sums: “It’s fun to play such a wild female. Carl told me my part would be provocative, sexy and wild. The Witch is a shape-shifter who is clairvoyant and play tricks on others, but she is not a typical witch. She has the heart of a woman, but she just follows her instincts.”
Rinsch’s goal has been to show audiences a side to Japan none have ever seen, while simultaneously paying homage to her country’s cultural traditions. “The Japanese want to see something new, too,” Kikuchi adds. “Rather than a traditional story performed and created just by the Japanese, we would love to see this traditional story from a new angle. This film strikes a perfect balance between what is universal and something totally creative and new.”
Jin Akanishi — who is also a phenomenon in his native Japan, where he’s been heretofore known as a pop music star — plays Chikara, Oishi’s son. Abdy discusses the character: “Chikara was forced to become a man at a very early age. Oishi, like any parent, just wants to protect him.” Of his on-screen portrayer, she adds: “Jin has done a great job with the role. He’s learned a lot on the film, and I’m thrilled we cast him.”
Akanishi relished the chance to join the production. He elaborates upon the story of his character, who is schooled by Kai in the fighting style of the Tengu: “Chikara starts off as a boy who wants to be a samurai. Throughout the story, he grows up. He’s the only one who really understands Kai and treats him as a friend.”
Abdy recalls asking Akanishi whether he and his friends were familiar with the tale of the 47 Ronin: “He said, ‘No, it’s something our grandfathers and fathers talked about.’ But as we walked him through the world of the film he said, ‘This is cool; my friends will love this.’ We have an opportunity to educate the younger generation in Japan about this story because we’re giving it to them in a world they can relate to.”
For the younger members of the cast, there was much to learn from their counterparts. “Sanada-san is diligent,” commends Akanishi. “He cares about everybody and every little thing. He pays attention to how we wear our costumes and how we move because he knows so much about Japanese culture. He’s been incredibly helpful and supportive.”
While Akanishi plays the youngest of the outcasts, the remainder of the principal samurai warriors was populated by Japanese performers MASAYOSHI HANEDA as Yasuno, HIROSHI SOGABE as Hazama, TAKATO YONEMOTO as Basho, HIROSHI YAMADA as Hara and SHU NAKAJIMA as Horibe. MASAYUKI DEAI came aboard as Isogai, while YORICK VAN WAGENINGEN portrays the Dutch Island’s Kapitan and GEDDE WATANABE plays the Troupe Leader, who enables Oishi’s men in their plan to attack Kira’s soldiers. Riku, who is Oishi’s wife and Chikara’s mother, is played by NATSUKI KUNIMOTO.
Finally, in addition to the much respected Min Tanaka, who portrays Lord Asano, longtime performer and martial artist Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa joined the production as Shogun Tsunayoshi, whose word in this feudal land is unquestionable law.
BUDAPEST TO LONDON: Sets, Location and Design
The shoot for 47 RONIN was split between studio work in Budapest and filming on expansive back-lot sets at Shepperton Studios near London. Indeed, the goal for the production team was to create a romanticized vision of Japan from scratch. Producer McLeod sums: “A lot of people who haven’t been to Japan have a mind’s-eye vision of what Japan might look like. This film takes that to another level: It’s greener, brighter.”
Reflects Abdy on the challenges that were in store from day one: “You couple Chris and Hossein’s script with making the film in London and Budapest, and trying to re-create feudal Japan. It was a multi-layered process that took many talented people to pull off.”
The filmmakers knew that in order to do the production justice, they would need to work on a grand scale. At the same time, they needed to capture the idiosyncrasies of life in 18th-century Japan while honoring their desire to bring a never-before-seen take on the national tale of this country to the big screen.
Rinsch discusses what was required: “We did incredibly diligent research, making sure we knew the culture and then paying respect to it by making it our own and twisting it in a way that would make sense to any culture. However, the Japanese have codified logic to seemingly everyday tasks; the Westerner always has to be careful not to offend. Something as simple as making sure all the kimonos are worn left over right becomes hugely important. Only after death do you wear it right over left. If you are not careful, you will end up with a cast of walking dead.”
“Our sets are big,” reveals Abdy. “They’re elaborate. They have visual effects set extensions. Then there’s the detail of the set dressing, which is as authentic as possible, even down to the little details like the tea, the rooms, the tatami mats. There’s a scene where Mika is putting makeup on to get ready for her wedding to Lord Kira. The detail in everything, down to the brushes and the way that the makeup is actually placed within the bowls — how it’s carried, the colors, the way it’s put on, the very structure of the lipstick — there are a million of those elements to get right in every department.”
Two-time Oscar-nominated production designer Jan Roelfs, who most recently designed the globetrotting juggernaut Fast & Furious 6, and his crew set about creating 47 RONIN’s iconic locations. In Budapest, his team built huge sets for the Ako courtyard, Dejima Island and the Tengu Forest. While at Shepperton, they constructed the Ako exterior and Kira’s fortress for the film’s grand finale.
McLeod takes a moment to commend the team’s work: “The detail is extraordinary. On the Ako set, the trees were in full bloom with cherry blossoms. That, itself, is such an iconic Japanese vision. The stark contrast between Ako’s fortress, with its beautiful cherry blossoms, and the darkness of Kira’s fortress lends itself well to the story’s journey from beginning to end.”
In sum, 15,000 artificial cherry blossoms were hand-tied to each tree, and the trees themselves were so big that they had to be dismantled at source and shipped to the U.K. in sections. The sets were also enhanced with bamboo plants — 300 in total, each about 50-feet high — which had been shipped from Italy, as well as 3-foot-high bonsai trees, some of which were, staggeringly, more than 100 years old.
As an example of Roelf’s team’s work, Reeves walks us through the final act of the film, a siege on Kira’s fortress that was shot on the back lot at Shepperton Studios: “The 47 Ronin have gained the cooperation of the acting troupe who are supposed to perform that night for Lord Kira. We gain access to the castle and begin to strategically place ourselves within it. And there’s this orchestrated moment when we are going to try and take the life of Lord Kira and free the princess.”
The set was absolutely ideal, says Asano. “It was perfect: ugly, cold and bare. In other words, exactly right for the character of Kira.”
Reeves admits to being overwhelmed by the level of detail that went into building the film’s sets, in particular, the work done on Kira’s fortress. “We had such fantastic sets,” he proudly says. “And so much has been achieved in-camera. There are set extensions, special effects and creatures, but we had these big sets. It’s old-style moviemaking: huge sets, lots of extras, costumes, lights, cameras, action. You’re getting to see the fun of how the few — the Ronin — get to take on the many. There’s arrows and fighting and swordplay, and it takes place through all these different courtyards.”
In our version of the legend, Kai grew up in the Tengu Forest, a set constructed by Roelfs and his team in Budapest. Abdy was particularly taken with this set piece. She enthuses: “The Tengu Forest is spectacular. It’s probably the most fantastical element in the film, set-wise, and it has so many elements to it. It’s a way for the audience to dive into this mysterious place where Kai is from.”
Akanishi concurs, offering that his character’s first battle scene was very intimidating: “The cave, especially, was very strange and scary-looking, and I was impressed by how much detail the crew had put into it. It was incredibly intricate. It was the first set for me, and seeing it for the first time, I was amazed.”
In Budapest, the production built the surroundings of Dejima Island, a Dutch-owned trading post that was subsequently consumed by land reclamation in the bay of Nagasaki. It is here that Kai and Oishi trade blows, when the latter man tries to spring Kai from captivity.
McLeod believes there’s no one better than Roelfs to visualize the world of 47 RONIN. He commends: “Jan’s thought process, not only for the design of the film, but how it works with the complexities of the stunts and the visual effects, took everything into account.”
BIRDS OF PREY: Stunts and Martial Arts
Stunt coordinator GARY POWELL, who has served in that capacity on films from Skyfall and Quantum of Solace to Unstoppable and The Bourne Ultimatum, was charged with manning the fight teams. Says Rinsch: “Gary did an incredible job. We wanted to get as much on camera as we could of the fighting, and he led the stunt team to incredible results.”
Reeves is no stranger to Asian fighting styles, having learned several hand-to-hand martial arts for his role in the Matrix trilogy and in his directorial debut of Man of Tai Chi. However, training for 47 RONIN meant learning Japanese fighting styles that involved weaponry. He shares: “I started basic katana sword training before production and did about six weeks of that, laying the groundwork.”
Kai’s fighting style blends basic, traditional elements with a mythical style of fighting unique to the Tengu masters. As well, it is informed by his time in captivity on Dejima Island, where he’s turned into what Reeves describes as a “fighting dog.” The performer elaborates: “Kai brings all these kinds of elements of watching samurai, learning the Tengu sword techniques and then pit-fighting techniques.”
Reeves shares a pivotal scene at Dejima against Oishi, where the freak master of ceremonies watches it all unfold: “During that fight, we’re getting to know each other through styles and through intention. Kai has lost his mind, because he’s been in the killing room for a year and has been turned into a killing animal. But Oishi brings him back.”
Quite skilled with swordplay himself, Sanada remembers rehearsing this particular scene for weeks. The performer explains: “Oishi is a sword master, but at that time, Japan was peaceful, so a lot of samurai never used their swords. Kai was brought up in Tengu, and his style of fighting was wilder. During the course of the journey, Kai and Oishi learn each other’s fighting style.”
Reeves says Sanada helped when it came to learning the art of the samurai sword. “Sanada-san is high-hand, high-bar,” he enthuses. “He’s had classical training with the sword. For him, everything must have meaning. He doesn’t want to just have action for action’s sake. Each strike flows into the next, and he’s very cognizant.”
On the Dutch Island of Dejima, Kai encounters another fantastical creature, the Oni (ogre), played by Neil Fingleton (X-Men: First Class), who also plays Kira’s gigantic Brute soldier in the beginning of the film — thus allowing Fingleton his second fight of the movie against Reeves. Standing at an impressive 7’7”, Fingleton is Britain’s tallest man.
Reeves believes that this was one of the toughest fights of his acting career: “That’s the challenge. How do you fight someone that tall? In terms of attack, for me it’s about working high and low. You go for the feet, you try to get inside. Neil’s a professional athlete and has command of his physical skills, even if he started without much experience in stunt fighting.”
Fingleton shares his experience of being the biggest man on set: “I’ve always been very proud of my height. Keanu’s a good guy, and it was fun getting to know him.
With the fights, it was about understanding how each of us moves, and I guess it was tougher for him because he had to fight looking up.” He pauses. “I’m looking down, but I’m used to that!”
The outcast samurai weren’t the only men to get in on the action. Akanishi admits he was thrilled to learn the physical side of his role. “I practiced sword fighting and horse riding, and I had never done that before,” he enthuses. “It was fun, and they are good things to know.”
DREAMING OF ANCIENT JAPAN: Visual Effects of 47 RONIN
Academy Award-nominated visual effects supervisor Christian Manz and award-winning effects house FRAMESTORE were charged with creating the fantastical creatures that appear in 47 RONIN, as well as the background extensions for the film’s magnificent sets.
Manz advises that Rinsch’s approach was fundamentally artistic. He states: “In initial discussions with Carl, we talked about the craft and creativity more than the technical side. I was drawn in by seeing all these beautiful pictures he showed me. He was very open to listening to other people’s ideas and wanted everything to look amazing.”
A director who cut his teeth in the world of commercials, Rinsch’s influences came from multiple sources. Still, the two men kept referencing one name. “We talked about the film looking like a live-action version of a Miyazaki film,” recalls Manz. “The challenge was to make it feel that everything is of that world. We wanted the design to feel grounded, but with the hint of the fantastical running through it. It’s a Japan that everyone thinks existed, but likely only existed in Hokusai prints.”
Manz worked closely with Roelfs and his team to enhance the practical work that the production designer achieved. From extending Ako’s multiple courtyards and paddies to creating a dark and dramatic backdrop for Kira’s fortress — one placed atop snowy mountains and amid plunging ravines — the department worked around the clock.
Certainly, the most obvious work of Manz’s department was on the film’s fantastical creatures: the Witch’s dragon, the Oni of Dutch Island and the fearsome creature called Kirin. One of the film’s most spectacular sequences — a high-energy hunt in a forest to take down the Kirin — opens the film. Abdy laughs: “It’s our big car chase. Obviously, we don’t have cars in this movie, so how better to create that pace and vibe than with a big, giant creature in the middle of the forest? The Kirin has energy, power and movement.”
For Manz, that scene was the most complex action piece throughout the production. He shares: “The whole idea is that it’s a majestic beast that’s been poisoned and gone rabid. It’s been one of the biggest challenges: to design the creature and work with the stunt team and the production design team to fit it into the scene.”
Making the sequence work meant getting the action beats precisely right. Explains Manz: “It’s all about designing a path where the Kirin will be, making sure that the actors are looking at it and making sure that there’s real-world interaction with the physical creature. We needed to do this so that later on, when it could be put into the scene and people are reacting to it, it comes off as a believable element.”
Sanada says the scene is an essential moment in the adventure. “It establishes that this is a samurai film, but with grand elements of fantasy,” he explains. “With the Kirin monster you explain the kind of taste the film will have. You also come to learn about Kai’s character, because he has spiritual power and fighting skills. For all of the actors, it was very hard to play, because we could never see the real Kirin there. Acting and imagination became the only weapons, and we had to make sure that the audience believes it.”
For Fingleton, playing the Oni in his pivotal fight scene with Kai at Dejima meant accepting the realities of acting for visual effects. “Basically I was in a carrot suit for about a week, which was not a good time,” he muses. “The Oni’s got a sickle and a ball and chain, and he’s this big monster. It was a great fight, though Keanu beheads me at the end, which was not cool for me.”
Manz explains the practical work that went into achieving the pivotal scene between Kai and the Oni: “Gary Powell created the fight between Keanu and Neil. Essentially, Carl directed that fight with the real guys there, and we overlayed Neil with our creature later on.”
With the help of Manz’s effects team, in postproduction, the Oni became a giant, red-hued fighting ogre. Rinsch walks us through the process: “Neil wore a red tracking suit and spandex, and we used him as our base. Then we built our CG character on top of him, so that he was fighting with Keanu, who had the advantage of fighting against a real person. We had the advantage of understanding lighting and real body movement, so that the CG character would look real.”
DRESSING THE FANTASY: Intricate Costume Design
Crafting the costumes for the epic action-adventure meant not just adhering to the strict practices and styles of 18th-century Japan, but also creating looks for as many as 900 extras, in addition to the principal cast. The extravagant outfits were mostly handmade, and the costume department went to great lengths to craft items from beautiful and colorful kimonos to complex and coded armor for the film’s many soldiers.
The biggest challenge was coming to terms with a period of history and mountainous geography largely unfamiliar to Western audiences. For costume designer Penny Rose, whose experience in historical and fantastical dress includes projects as diverse as all four of the Pirates of the Caribbean films — as well as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, King Arthur and Shadowlands — the first step was, naturally, to research. She shares: “We knew very little about 18th-century Japan, so two people from the costume department went to Japan to visit all the museums in Tokyo and start amassing research. We didn’t want to replicate the real thing, because we were making a fantasy world. However, we did want to start with a base of the shape, and then we built onto it.”
Rinsch describes their partnership: “Penny is a friend of mine, someone whom I’ve known since before the film began. In the early days, we discussed taking some of the original designs and breathing new life into them — giving them a style and a flair that you’ve not seen before. She created strong silhouettes for each of the character designs, as well as focused on specific color palettes and textures.”
Collaborating alongside Rinsch has been successful, Rose says. “Carl’s very visual, imaginative and clever, and he always sees the big picture. He can be persuaded to try things he hadn’t thought of, but then he also has endlessly brilliant ideas out of the blue. He’s wonderful to work with because he’s excited about the visual side of the film.”
One of Rinsch’s most memorable ideas was to recreate the look of a Japanese screen in costume form. “For Mika’s handmaidens, we made a cape with a blossom tree embroidered on the back,” Rose details. “When they stand together, you can see the entire tree. It worked beautifully.”
Sanada, the film’s champion of authenticity, commends the hard work of Rose and her team: “It’s been very hard for Penny because of the stark difference between Eastern and Western culture. But she’s done incredibly well. She was absolutely the best person to do the film.”
The hard work began with the creation of more than 1,000 simple white under-kimonos, the basis for each of the film’s costumes. “We stuck to tradition in the basic formation of the costume and then went a bit off the beaten path with the fabrics,” says Rose.
As was true of all departments, the costumers needed to collaborate closely with production designer Roelfs’ group. Rose shares: “It’s been an honor working with Jan, because the sets are magnificent. We partnered together to create shapes and colors that work within his designs and to make sure all the patterns didn’t clash.”
The design elements permeate the entire world of 47 RONIN. Whether it is through the armor of the horsemen or the deceptively simple outfits of the villagers, the audience may quickly identify the powerful allegiances of each character. “Ako, the happy place, is in red,” explains Rose. “The world of the villain, Kira, is in purples, and then the Shogun’s world is gold with a bit of turquoise.”
In a workshop in Budapest, approximately 400 sets of armor were painstakingly handmade from plastic, allowing for lightweight wear during the film’s multiple battle sequences. This protected the actors from heat exhaustion. A single prototype was constructed in leather — the traditional material used when creating the real armor — and a revolutionary replication process ensured that the plastic versions were impossible to distinguish from the prototype. Enthuses Rose: “The replication finish is the best I’ve ever seen.”
Rose intentionally explored contrast in the dress choices of Kai and Oishi. Of her design inspiration, she states: “Kai is a lost boy. He’s always dressed in patchy, ragged clothes and is a comfortable dresser. Oishi, meanwhile, has incredibly glamorous clothes. Each of his costumes is very complex, with four or five components, and he has about 10 or so looks throughout the film. We worked closely with Hiroyuki, and he was very interested in the detail.”
For Shibasaki’s Mika, Rose turned her attention to high fashion. She shares: “We looked at all of the houses that had done Oriental-flavored collections — like Dior in the ’90s, Givenchy in the ’60s and, of course, Alexander McQueen. We took elements of those designs and blended them with the traditional. Mika has her own color scheme, too, of peach, tangerine and very soft pastels. Everything is silk and has a high collar.”
Rose describes Asano’s evil Lord Kira as the dandy of the group. “He wears crystals and jewels and a lot of decoration, but always with the same broad-shouldered silhouette,” she explains. “He’s definitely a snappy dresser.”
Kikuchi is effusive about the outfits Rose designed for her character. She shares: “The costumes that Penny prepared for me made me realize what the Witch is all about. They were very helpful in getting into the part. I could even say that the role only came to life when I put on the costume. Penny helped me hugely.”
The look for her Witch is completed with a set of different-colored contact lenses. “The lenses make me look crazy and creepy,” Kikuchi laughs. “Just wearing them makes the character look mysterious enough to have magical powers.” Rose had to take into consideration the work of the visual effects team when she designed the Witch’s clothes. Adds Kikuchi: “The Witch can change her shape and morph into anything from a fox to fabric.”
Abdy was thrilled with the fruits of Rose’s team’s labor. She enthuses: “I’m obsessed with what they’ve done with the women’s costumes. Penny took the assignment to another level; their costumes are like couture. You could see these women walking down a runway during Paris Fashion Week! She’s taken the authenticity of the world and put her own flair on it, so it has a very modern vibe. She’s a force.”
Manz says the Witch’s costume is almost another creature in the film. “Her dress can change shape and she can shape shift as well,” he reveals. “We’ve done that in an interesting way, instead of doing old-fashioned morphs and things that we’ve seen since the ’80s. Her dress is something that you won’t have seen before.”
ABOUT THE CAST
KEANU REEVES (Kai) is one of Hollywood’s most sought after leading men. Reeves recently made his directorial debut with Man of Tai Chi, which was shot entirely in China. Reeves not only directed the film, but also starred in it. Man of Tai Chi premiered in China in June and will be released worldwide this fall.
In 2012, the Reeves-produced documentary Side by Side made its theatrical and VOD debut to critical acclaim. The documentary, which explores the history of filmmaking and the impact of new digital technology, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. In the film, directed by Chris Kenneally, Reeves interviewed some of Hollywood’s key players, including James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, George Lucas, Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, Lars von Trier and the Wachowskis.
Recent film credits for Reeves include Mark Mann’s Generation Um…; Henry’s Crime, which he both starred in and produced; Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, opposite Robin Wright; 20th Century Fox’s epic The Day the Earth Stood Still, alongside Jennifer Connelly; the cop thriller Street Kings, opposite Forest Whitaker; the romantic drama The Lake House, opposite Sandra Bullock; and A Scanner Darkly, a highly stylized blend of live-action and animation. Reeves also starred in the comic adaptation Constantine, opposite Rachel Weisz; the independent film Thumbsucker; the romantic comedy Something’s Gotta Give, opposite Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton; and the incredibly popular The Matrix series.
Reeves’ long list of credits includes Hardball; The Gift, opposite Cate Blanchett; Sweet November; The Replacements; A Walk in the Clouds; the hit thriller Devil’s Advocate, opposite Al Pacino and Charlize Theron; Little Buddha; and Much Ado About Nothing, opposite Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson and Michael Keaton. Reeves was also seen in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, My Own Private Idaho, Point Break, the very popular Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
Raised in Toronto, Reeves performed in various local theater productions and on television before relocating to Los Angeles. His first widely acclaimed role was in Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge. He then starred in Marisa Silver’s Permanent Record, and alongside Amy Madigan and Fred Ward in The Prince of Pennsylvania. Yet another turn came when Reeves was cast as the innocent Danceny in Stephen Frears’ highly praised Dangerous Liaisons, alongside Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer. He joined other outstanding casts that year in Ron Howard’s comedy Parenthood and Lawrence Kasdan’s I Love You to Death. Audiences saw Reeves for the first time as the romantic lead opposite Barbara Hershey in Jon Amiel’s Tune in Tomorrow, which co-starred Peter Falk. His additional credits include TriStar’s sci-fi thriller Johnny Mnemonic, Andrew Davis’ action film Chain Reaction and Steve Baigelman’s dark comedy Feeling Minnesota.
As one of Japan’s most talented and highest regarded actors of his generation, HIROYUKI SANADA (Oishi) has garnered the attention of American and foreign audiences with more than 50 films and a Japanese Oscar to his name.
Sanada will be seen in The Railway Man, alongside Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. The epic true story based on Eric Lomax’s autobiography centers around two men haunted by their experiences on the notorious Death Railway in WWII who are brought together for a devastating final confrontation. Sanada plays Nagase, the interpreter at the Japanese prison camp during WWII where Eric Lomax (Firth), is held prisoner. The film premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. The film was picked up for domestic distribution by The Weinstein Company, and will be released in the U.S. in 2014. Lionsgate International has set up deals for international release starting in December 2013, including Australia, Japan, Spain and the U.K.
Sanada is currently in production on SyFy Channel’s original series Helix, in which he is a part of an elite team of CDC researchers investigating a mysterious viral outbreak in the Arctic Circle — an outbreak which has implications for all of mankind. The show premieres in January 2014.
Sanada was last seen in James Mangold’s action feature The Wolverine, opposite Hugh Jackman, for 20th Century Fox. In the film, Sanada starred as Shingen, a crime boss and major enemy of Wolverine. The film was released on July 26,
Sanada started his career in film when he was five years old, and later won the Japanese Academy Award for his role in The Twilight Samurai, where he played a mid-19th century low-ranking samurai employed as a bureaucrat. The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. On the heels of this success, Sanada made his mark with American audiences when he starred alongside Tom Cruise in Ed Zwick’s The Last Samurai.
Since then, Sanada has been seen in a number of notable features including James Ivory’s The City of Your Final Destination, alongside Anthony Hopkins; The White Countess, opposite Ralph Fiennes; Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller Sunshine, with Chris Evans and Rose Byrne; the action-thriller Speed Racer, alongside Susan Sarandon and Emile Hirsch; Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour 3; Chen Kaige’s The Promise, a Chinese epic fantasy romance; and the terrifying Ring series.
On television, Sanada had a guest-starring arc on the first season of ABC’s Revenge, where he played Kiyoshi Takeda, Emily’s (Emily Van Camp) mentor and spiritual advisor who offers her the manual to life and the cautions that come with it. He also starred in multiple episodes of the Primetime Emmy Award-winning series Lost, in which he played the role of Dogen in the final season. Beyond television, Sanada became one of the few foreign actors to tour with the Royal Shakespeare Company in a production of King Lear, with Nigel Hawthorne.
Sanada has a black belt in karate, and is trained in Japanese traditional dance and Japanese Swordplay Tate. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
TADANOBU ASANO (Lord Kira) was born in Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa, Japan on November 27, 1973.
Asano’s feature film credits include Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer (2001), Takeshi Kitano’s The Blind Swordsman: Zatochi (2003), Pen-Ek Ratanaruanng’s Last Life in the Universe (2004) and Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007), which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 80th Annual Academy Awards. Asano made his Hollywood debut in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (2011), followed shortly by Peter Berg’s Battleship (2012) and Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World (2013).
Asano won the Upstream Prize for Best Actor at the 60th Venice Film Festival in 2003 for his role in Last Life in the Universe.
Having a distinctive presence, Asano is one of the leading Japanese actors on the big screen and is acclaimed for his performances worldwide.
Japanese-born RINKO KIKUCHI (Witch) has shown range and depth with every role she plays. Kikuchi was most recently seen in the sci-fi thriller Pacific Rim.
Kikuchi landed her first professional role in the Japanese film Ikitai in 1999. Since then, she has displayed her talent as an actress, starring in critically acclaimed Japanese films such as Hole in the Sky (2001) and The Taste of Tea (2004), and continues to gain popularity within Japan’s film industry.
Kikuchi was catapulted onto the international feature film scene with her Academy Award-nominated role for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel (2006). Playing the role of young deaf high-schooler Chieko with fervent energy and commitment, Kikuchi achieved an outstanding reputation around the world for her dramatic performance. The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations, securing Kikuchi’s status as one of Hollywood’s leading young actresses.
Kikuchi followed up her success with a number of highly acclaimed international films such as Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom (2008), with Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz; Isabel Coixet’s Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (2009), with Serge Lopez; Mikael Håfström’s Shanghai (2010), with John Cusack and Ken Watanabe; and Anh Hung Tran’s Norwegian Wood (2010), a highly anticipated adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s international bestselling novel of the same name.
Kikuchi hails from Hadano, Japan, and is a skilled sword fighter as well as an accomplished motorcyclist and horseback rider. In 2007, she was named one of Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch.
KO SHIBASAKI (Mika) was born in 1981 in Tokyo. Shibasaki’s acting career took off with Battle Royale in 2000 and Go in 2001. She won acclaim for her fine performance in Go, earning several awards, including Best Supporting Actress at the Japanese Academy Awards. She soon became one of the most bankable leading actresses with many box-office hits such as Yomigaeri, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World, Sinking of Japan, Shaolin Girl, Suspect X, Rinco’s Restaurant and The Lady Shogun and Her Men. 47 RONIN is Shibasaki’s Hollywood debut.
She has been a star in the Japanese music scene for many years. Her singing career began with her first single in 2002, “Trust My Feelings,” but her singing skills received significant recognition upon release of her second single, “Tsuki no shizuku,” a song used in Yomigaeri, which was also one of the best J-Pop hits of 2003. Shibasaki’s first Christmas Song, “Actuality,” was released in December 2006, with “At Home” released on February 21, 2007. Both did not reach the top 10 on the Oricon charts. Her next single, “Hito Koi Meguri,” released on March 28, 2007, reached No. 8 on the charts. It became her first single to reach the top 10 since “Invitation.” On April 25, 2007, Shibasaki’s third album, “KiKi,” was released and went straight to No. 1. On August 3 and 5, Shibasaki held her first concerts, Ko Shibasaki Premium Live, in Osaka and Tokyo. The 2,400 members of the audience were selected from more than 30,000 applicants for the tickets (which accompanied the album).
In April 2008, Shibasaki released two greatest hits albums, “The Single Best” and “The Back Best.” The former album topped the Oricon charts (the first time Shibasaki reached first place in the weekly chart), while “The Back Best” remained in third place.
Shibasaki writes the lyrics for most of her songs. Many of her singles have become theme songs for various films and commercials.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Known for his innovative, cinematic solutions to creative and production puzzles, CARL RINSCH (Directed by) has earned a reputation as an idea man and master storyteller. Over the last decade, Rinsch has defined his own esthetic and crafted award-winning work on a number of projects.
Rinsch started directing at a young age. At just 14 years old, he had his first film shown at both the New York and Telluride Film Festivals. While still an undergraduate at Brown University, where he double-majored in English and art, he worked as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone magazine, shooting editorial print work with musicians like Chrissie Hynde, Sheryl Crow, Devo, Sarah McLachlan and the Violent Femmes.
Since earning the D&AD/Campaign Screen Award for Best New Director, and being featured in Saatchi and Saatchi’s New Director’s Showcase at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2001, Rinsch has continued to be recognized for his work. In 2009, he won a Silver Clio for Audi “Intelligently Combined,” which dramatizes the creation of an A4 through a ballet of cogs and parts falling into place within a transparent Rubik’s-like cube.
The next year, Rinsch’s European espionage robot epic The Gift, shot for Philips Parallel Lines, won the Grand Prix for Direction at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and the Grand Prix at the Ciclope Advertising Craft Festival. In 2012, he directed a conspiracy theorist’s nightmare-come-true with Mercedes’ “Escape the Map,” in which an alluring woman and her mystery driver break free from a world-gone Google Maps. The Kinsale Shark Advertising Awards noted Rinsch’s balance of sharp storytelling and stunning visual effects, awarding him gold for Animation.
In addition to directing commercials and his work on 47 RONIN, Rinsch is currently working on an interactive virtual mobile platform.
47 RONIN marks the seventh consecutive feature film collaboration for CHRIS MORGAN (Screenplay/Screen Story by) and Universal Pictures. The collaboration began with Justin Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, then Morgan went on to adapt Wanted, which starred Angelina Jolie. Following that, Morgan wrote the back-to-back-to-back reteaming of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast & Furious, Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.
Morgan is currently busy producing Universal Pictures’ upcoming The Legend of Conan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as writing the seventh installment in the Fast & Furious series.
Iranian-born screenwriter HOSSEIN AMINI (Screenplay by) was nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar in 1998 for his adaptation of Henry James’ classic novel Wings of a Dove, which starred Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roach and Alison Elliott.
Amini wrote the screenplay for the 1996 release Jude, which starred Kate Winslet and Christopher Ecclestone, which won the Edinburgh Film Festival prize for Best British Film. Other credits include the 2002 release The Four Feathers, with Heath Ledger, and Killshot (2008).
In 2011, Amini wrote the screenplay for Drive, which starred Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. Drive was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and for Best Film at the 2012 BAFTA Awards.
Most recently, Amini co-wrote Universal Pictures’ Snow White and the Huntsman and will make his directorial debut with the thriller The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name.
WALTER HAMADA (Screen Story by/Executive Producer) is New Line Cinema’s senior vice president of production. Among the feature films Hamada has produced are Final Destination 5, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. His latest release was the box-office success The Conjuring, which starred Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, based on the true case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Up next is the tornado thriller Into the Storm, slated for summer 2014.
Hamada spent four years as a partner at H2F Entertainment, a management and production company he co-founded, prior to joining New Line in 2007. While there, he helped build the careers of such writers as Chris Morgan (Wanted, Fast & Furious 6), Brad Gann (Invincible), and Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson (Four Christmases). He also produced the indie horror film Whisper.
A graduate of UCLA, Hamada began his career as an assistant at TriStar Pictures, where he quickly rose through the ranks and ultimately served as vice president of production for Columbia Pictures. While at Columbia Pictures, he oversaw the development and production of several films, including The Big Hit, Vertical Limit, Godzilla and S.W.A.T.
As president of Bluegrass Films, PAMELA ABDY, p.g.a. (Produced by) is a producer who also oversees daily development and procurement of properties for feature film production. Among the diverse slate at Bluegrass Films, Abdy produced the hit comedy Identity Thief, recently wrapped production on the remake of Endless Love, directed by Shana Feste, and executive produced Kill the Messenger, directed by Michael Cuesta.
Prior to joining Bluegrass Films, Abdy was executive vice president of Paramount Pictures, where she oversaw the development and production of a number of films, including Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island; The Love Guru, which starred Mike Myers; Stop-Loss, which was directed by Kimberly Peirce and starred Ryan Phillippe; Drillbit Taylor, which was produced by Judd Apatow and starred Owen Wilson; World Trade Center, which was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Nicolas Cage; Aeon Flux, which was directed by Karyn Kusama and starred Charlize Theron; Freedom Writers, which was directed by Richard LaGravenese and starred Hilary Swank; and the Golden Globe-winning film Babel, which starred Brad Pitt and was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. In addition, Abdy oversaw production on the Mark Waters-directed Mean Girls, which starred Lindsay Lohan.
Abdy joined Paramount Pictures in January 2003. She was previously president of Jersey Films, where she produced the film Garden State, which won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
ERIC McLEOD (Produced by/Unit Production Manager) is a seasoned producer, with more than 30 films under his belt. McLeod’s wide range of production experience provides him the unique ability to handle the massive logistics required for mounting any film.
McLeod got his start in 1988 as a production coordinator on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and never looked back. He’s worked with some of the industry’s top filmmakers, including Michael Mann, Gore Verbinski, Tony Scott and Doug Liman.
McLeod’s feature film credits include Mann’s Untitled Michael Mann Film, Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, Scott’s Unstoppable, Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Jay Chandrasekhar’s The Dukes of Hazzard, Doug Liman’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Bo Welch’s Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, Jay Roach’s Austin Powers series, Tom Dey’s Showtime, Tarsem Singh’s The Cell, Scott’s Enemy of the State, Richard LaGravenese’s Living Out Loud, Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog, Lesli Linka Glatter’s Now and Then, Jessie Nelson’s Corrina Corrina and John G. Avildsen’s 8 Seconds.
SCOTT STUBER (Executive Producer) is the founder and CEO of Bluegrass Films, which has been based at Universal Pictures since 2006.
Recent Bluegrass Films releases include Identity Thief, which starred Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, was directed by Seth Gordon and grossed more than $100 million domestically; Ted, the highest grossing original “R”-rated comedy of all time, which was written and directed by Seth MacFarlane and starred Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and MacFarlane; and Safe House, which starred Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and was directed by Daniel Espinosa.
Stuber recently wrapped production on Michael Cuesta’s true-life dramatic thriller Kill the Messenger, starring Jeremy Renner, from a screenplay by Peter Landesman. He is in postproduction on the romantic drama Endless Love, directed by Shana Feste and starring Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde, which is set for a February 14, 2014, release; and Seth MacFarlane’s Western comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West, starring Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried and MacFarlane, which will be released on May 30, 2014.
Stuber, under his Bluegrass Television label, has also ventured onto the small screen with the NBC comedy Whitney, which was created by and starred comedian Whitney Cummings.
Stuber’s first production was summer 2006’s romantic comedy The Break-Up, which starred Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. That summer also saw the release of the hit You, Me and Dupree, which starred Owen Wilson and Kate Hudson. These were followed by Peter Berg’s critically acclaimed film The Kingdom; the Martin Lawrence comedy Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins; the David Wain hit Role Models, which starred Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott; and Couples Retreat, which starred Vaughn and Jon Favreau.
During Stuber’s eight years at Universal — five of which he spent running worldwide production with Mary Parent — he was responsible for many of the studio’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful films, including King Kong, Jarhead, A Beautiful Mind, Seabiscuit, Cinderella Man, Munich, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, About a Boy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 8 Mile, Spy Game, The Family Man, The Nutty Professor, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, The Mummy franchise, the American Pie franchise, Fast & Furious franchise, Friday Night Lights, Bring It On and many others. More than 20 of the films Stuber supervised have grossed more than $100 million domestically.
CHRIS FENTON (Executive Producer) is president of DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group and general manager of DMG North America. Fenton worked as a motion picture agent at the William Morris Agency from 1994 to 2002. Since then, he has been the chief architect in creating new business opportunities for DMG with North American-based partners, concentrating his efforts in forming partnerships with various Hollywood studios for the development, financing, production, marketing and distribution of various forms of international content in China.
Fenton has worked as the general manager of DMG’s North American operations since 2002, and was named president of DMG Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group in 2011. Fenton’s relationship with DMG and DMG CEO Dan Mintz dates back to Fenton’s eight-year tenure as an agent at the William Morris Agency. Early on as general manager, he focused on creating new business for DMG’s advertising and marketing operations, signing U.S.-based companies such as Fruit of the Loom, Behr Paint, Spalding, Under Armour and King 888 energy drink. However, Fenton’s responsibilities have grown over the years to include procuring and creating television and film content and I.P.; forging alliances with key North American-based marketing partners; negotiating music publishing contracts; pursuing endorsement and sponsorship opportunities; consulting on physical production, co-production, creative distribution and co-financing issues in China; producing film and television; representing content creators and artists; forming media distribution strategies and alliances; hiring executives and other personnel for DMG’s various divisions; cultivating key business, educational and government relationships; and educating North American press, media, universities and government entities on various DMG and China-oriented issues.
Fenton executive produced the action-thriller Numbers Station, which hit theaters earlier this year. Additionally, Fenton was a lead production executive and chief negotiator on the DMG/Endgame financed co-production Looper, which starred Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Sony released Looper on September 28, 2012.
Throughout much of 2012 and 2013, Fenton orchestrated the co-production/financing deal between DMG, Marvel and Disney for Iron Man 3, which grossed $1.2 billion worldwide and $125 million in China alone. He has produced eight other films, along with a television series, and has several other projects in the pipeline, including Lionsgate’s The Vatican Tapes.
Fenton’s specific achievements under his tenure at DMG include closing the largest U.S. celebrity endorsement deal ever for China — a seven-figure, one-year deal for Olympian Michael Phelps with DMG’s client Mazda; partnering Summit Entertainment with DMG to distribute several films theatrically in China, the first being Knowing, which starred Nicolas Cage, whose success led to DMG’s distribution of the Twilight series and Red in China; and providing DMG access to valuable intellectual property to mine for Chinese exploitation. DMG’s first foray into the cross-Pacific content pipeline was in 2005, a partnership between IMG/TWI and DMG, bringing The World’s Strongest Man competition to Chengdu.
English-born JOHN MATHIESON, BSC (Director of Photography) is one of a group of filmmakers who emerged out of the music video industry of the late ’80s and ’90s. He came up through the traditional camera ranks and worked as a camera assistant to Gabriel Beristáin for several years. Mathieson was first recognized in 1998 for his work on the music video “Peek-A-Boo” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. His peers include cinematographers Tim Maurice Jones (Kick-Ass 2) and Seamus McGarvey, BSC (Atonement), and directors Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and David Fincher (The Social Network). Mathieson honed his craft through the 1990s shooting numerous television commercials and music videos for artists including Madonna, Prince and Massive Attack.
Mathieson collaborated with John Maybury, director of Sinead O’Connor’s music video “Nothing Compares 2 U,” going on to photograph Maybury’s award-winning film Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon in 1998.
In the mid ’90s Mathieson photographed two feature films for director Karim Dridi, for which he was later bestowed the honor of Chevalier by the French government. He came to the attention of Tony Scott while shooting television commercials for the London-based company RSA Films. After working as visual effects cinematographer on Enemy of the State for Tony Scott in 1998, Mathieson photographed the film Plunkett & Macleane (1999) for Jake Scott. Having seen Mathieson’s work on Plunkett, Ridley Scott invited him to work on his next project, beginning a regular collaboration between the two.
Mathieson has photographed four films for Ridley Scott: Gladiator, Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. In 2001, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Gladiator and won the BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography in the same year. His second Oscar nomination came in 2004 for The Phantom of the Opera, directed by Joel Schumacher.
Mathieson’s other feature film credits include Marc Evans’ Trauma, Stephen Woolley’s Stoned, K-Pax, Brighton Rock, Bourke and Hare, X-Men: First Class and Mike Newell’s Great Expectations.
Mathieson lives in the United Kingdom.
JAN ROELFS (Production Designer) is a two-time Academy Award nominee recognized for his sumptuous work on Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and Sally Potter’s Orlando. Roelfs most recently designed Universal Pictures’ mega-hit Fast & Furious 6.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Roelfs commanded Hollywood’s attention early on in his career with his richly conceived and meticulously detailed sets for filmmaker Peter Greenaway. The duo teamed up on five films, including Prospero’s Books and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, for which Roelfs garnered a nomination for Best Production Designer at the 1990 European Film Awards. He has also collaborated with director Oliver Stone on the period epic Alexander and on World Trade Center, for which Roelfs received critical acclaim for re-creating ground zero in Los Angeles.
Other notable credits include S1m0ne, his second film with Niccol; the Judd Apatow-produced comedy Get Him to the Greek; Joel Schumacher’s Bad Company; My Own Love Song, which starred Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker; Little Women; and Lions For Lambs, directed by Robert Redford. In between feature films, Roelfs lends his creative expertise to the commercial world, nabbing a 2009 Art Directors Guild Award nomination for Excellence in Production Design for his work on a Capital One spot.
STUART BAIRD, ACE (Edited by) has twice been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing for his work on Richard Donner’s Superman and Michael Apted’s Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey.
Baird previously served as editor on the James Bond action-adventure features Skyfall and Casino Royale, for which he earned BAFTA Award nominations and American Cinema Editor Award Nominations on both films. His other credits include The Omen, Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2, Altered States, Outland, Die Hard II, Demolition Man, Maverick, Legends of Zorro and Salt.
Baird is also known for his work as a director. He directed Executive Decision, U.S. Marshals and Star Trek: Nemesis.
PENNY ROSE (Costume Designer) has worked in the film industry since the 1970s. Rose has been nominated for the BAFTA three times: Evita, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. In 2010, Rose received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her work on the HBO television miniseries The Pacific. Rose and her team faced great hurdles in their quest for original World War II military uniforms. To create 3,000 manufactured uniforms, the designers used the equivalent of 100 tennis courts of herringbone twill, specially woven in India on old-fashioned looms, to replicate the 1940s weave.
Rose’s other feature credits include Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and The Weatherman, Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Richard Attenborough’s Shadowlands, Tony Scott’s Unstoppable, Paul Weiland’s Made of Honor, Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson’s St. Trinian’s, Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur, Brian de Palma’s Mission: Impossible, Jon Amiel’s Entrapment, Alan Parker’s The Commitments and Bill Borsyth’s Local Hero.
British composer ILAN ESHKERI (Music by) is best known for his film scores to Stardust, The Young Victoria and Kick-Ass, as well as his collaborations with Coldplay, Annie Lennox and Take That.
Eskheri’s career is notable for its diversity; recently he scored Ralph Fiennes’ Shakespearean directorial debut Coriolanus, Rowan Atkinson’s comedy caper Johnny English Reborn, collaborated with electronic music legend Amon Tobin on a live performance of his work and was commissioned to write for world renowned pianist Lang Lang.
Early in his career, Eshkeri composed the score to the cult British gangster film Layer Cake, which earned him a nomination for Discovery of the Year at the World Soundtrack Awards. His score to Stardust won the International Film Music Critics Association award for Best Original Score for a Comedy Film. Eshkeri’s soundtrack to The Young Victoria topped the classical music charts for several weeks and received a nomination at the Ivor Novello Awards. Eshkeri has also been nominated for three world soundtrack awards. His collaborations with bands and solo artists include arrangements of Lennox’s best known songs for her concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, arranging for David Gilmour on his latest album, On An Island, and co-writing with The Cinematic Orchestra and Tim Wheeler from Ash. He also wrote the song “Only You” for Sinead O’Connor and worked with Take That on Stardust.
Born in London into a musical family, Eshkeri grew up playing the violin and guitar. He studied music and English literature at Leeds University, later learning the art of film composition by working closely with Michael Kamen, Edward Shearmur and Steve McLaughlin. He has a passion for performed music, and enjoys living and working in London, where his compositions are played by some of the world’s best musicians.
For more information on 47 RONIN, please see the previous coverage here on SciFi Japan: