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."
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