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 multilayered
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
"Our sets are big," reveals
Abdy. "They're elaborate.
They have visualeffects
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
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, setwise,
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."
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