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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."


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