The Hollywood news source Variety reported yesterday that Keanu Reeves, everyone's favorite hapa actor (his father is Hawai'ian-Chinese) is going to play the lead role in a samurai epic, "47 Ronin."
The 47 Ronin is the celebrated 18th century story from Japanese history, of a group of masterless samurai who avenged the death of their feudal lord, or daimyo, after a year of planning and then committed seppuku, or ritual suicide, to maintain their warrior code of honor, or bushido. The story's been told a lot in Japanese movies, in variations of the title "Chushingura." The most recent remake in Japan was "47 Ronin" ("Shijushichinin no shikaku") in 1994, written and directed by Kon Ichikawa.
It's cool to think that Hollywood is going to tell this story, with the the spectacle of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the star power of Reeves.
But it makes me wonder about the choice of Reeves. Yeah, he knows martial arts (and proved it in the Matrix movies), and he's part Asian. But he's not Japanese. And, hellooo, he doesn't look very Asian.
When "Memoirs of a Geisha" was produced with Chinese women in the lead roles, it bothered some in the Japanese American community, including me. (It also caused a stir in China, where the women were criticized for playing Japanese roles.) Could it really have been so hard to find qualified Japanese actresses (which was the filmmakers' excuse)?
I definitely get that Reeves brings a big name-brand to the samurai film so he's important. But his one previous role playing an Asian was downright surreal, and it makes me apprehensive about how this one will go.