“Chushingura,”the 18th-century tale of the 47 ronin, is one of Japan’s most beloved historical legends. And once again it has become fodder for a flashy Hollywood movie, this time called “Last Knights,” starring Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen, and directed by none other than Mr. Flash himself: Kazuaki Kiriya. “Last Knights” is his first English-language film, and opens here in November.
Kiriya turned heads in 2004 when his glitzy sci-fi “Casshern” was released, followed in 2009 by the historical extravaganza “Goemon.” He has a taste for all that glitters and a flair for flamboyance. (He was married to pop singer Hikaru Utada and directed several of her music videos.) Both are rare traits among Japanese filmmakers, and he revealed them during a recent appeared on a local TV show. In it, he claimed he habitually flies to London for custom-tailored suits and that he is capable of walking into a studio, clicking on his camera a couple of times and earning several million yen.
“Chushingura” is a tale of samurai loyalty, in which 47 trusted underlings took revenge for their master. But while commended for their faithfulness, they still had to die for disrupting the samurai order. This story has been used for countless Japanese movies and dramatizations. It was even used in the ill-fated “47 Ronin” (2013), which paired Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada.
Does “Last Knights” fare better? Kiriya slashes the Japanese-ness of the story to turn this into a Western medieval fable of sorts, redolent with dungeon undertones.
In his recent TV appearance, he inferred that — as an artist who has made it overseas — becoming a success in Japan was easy pie. Now many viewers are ready to throw mud pies at “Last Knights,” whether it deserves it or not.