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
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
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."
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