Literally "wave man" in Japanese.

A masterless samurai, a rogue.

"Ronin" is a movie too. Lots of good car chase scenes. Kind of slow otherwise.

A samurai whose master has been killed. These samurai wander Japan as mercenaries, thieves and even madmen. The most famous tale of the ronin was of 47 samurai whose master was betrayed and assassinated. The samurai roamed Japan for years, waiting for the best time to strike, some even as priests and shepherds. Then, in one single strike, the samurai came together and avenged their master. However, they all commited sepuku, also harikari immediately afterwards, for they no longer had a purpose with their master avenged.

This term has actually come to mean something a bit different in modern day Japan.

Ronin is a term for or state of being one who doesn't go to college or work a full time job, which is usually the fate of those who have not managed to pass the rigorous Japanese College Entrance Exams or was unable to find a regular job. In most cases, a person unable to find a full time job will work as a furiitaa or take time off and be a puutarou, so you wouldn't typically call them a ronin.

However, until the next opportunity to take the College Entrance Exams or job hunting season, the ronin will prepare by going to cram schools, or juku. In this case, they would actually be called a roninsei. "sei" being the same as in sensei or gakusei.

So, compare the present day ronin and the past meaning and see the comparisons?

Ronin – 1998
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet (Mamet is credited under the pseudonym Richard Wiesz).

“What’s in the case?”

A mysterious Irish woman named Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) has assembled a group of outcast intelligence and special forces agents in France in order to steal a briefcase for her. All of these former agents no longer work for any government and sell their services to the highest bidder; in essence they are like samurai without a master. Deirdre refuses to tell them what is in the briefcase or why they are stealing it, much to the chagrin of the American Sam (Robert DeNiro). Also among the assembled ronin are the German Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) and the Frenchman Vincent (Jean Reno). Eventually a series of double-crosses occur that lead to everyone fighting over the briefcase when they don’t even know what it contains.

Ronin is one of my favorite movies, the type of film that makes me love Robert DeNiro even more. Just like in Heat he comes off as being that perfect criminal, one who always knows what’s going on but doesn’t have to beat his chest over it. Always comes through in the clutch. You can tell just by the look in his eye that he knows that he is smarter than everyone, but he is so confident that he doesn’t feel the need to prove it.

“I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of”

This is essentially a heist flick, but while Heat was based on character development, and The Score was based around the actual heist itself, Ronin seems to spent most of its time around the preparations for the heist. All of the agents work together in planning the heist and checking the security around the briefcase, all the while checking out each other too. This film is also built around a series of spectacular car chases through the narrow streets of France. All of the chases were filmed using camera techniques and practical effects, no CGI was involved. Over 80 cars were destroyed during filming.

The briefcase manages to act as the perfect McGuffin. No one knows what is in the briefcase or how much it is worth, yet they would still sacrifice their lives in order to get it. The case is never out of the minds of the audience as Sam repeatedly asks, “What’s in the case?” and demanding more money if he is not told. The plot can also get very twisty at times, but it is easier if you are stable in the knowledge that DeNiro is cool and everybody else cannot be trusted.

Overall a very entertaining movie with probably my favorite DeNiro criminal role.


Publisher: DC Comics
Date: 1983 original miniseries, reprinted in 1995 in book format
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Lynn Varley

Why Ronin?

Frank Miller is perhaps most known for his Sin City series and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - this gem gets frequently overlooked. As I was aware of Frank Miller but simply could not get into Sin City (something I seek to remedy shortly) and had no interest in the world of Batman, I was glad to find Ronin, a story completely separate from either the Sin City world or Gotham. The vaguely anachronistic and downbeat front cover of a dispirited samurai dripping filth and sporting strange chrome armour (not to mention what appear to be grafted arms) on the cover intrigued me as well, and I ended up with a very enjoyable read.

The Story (spoiler-free)

The story of Ronin revolves around childlike, gentle Billy, a natural telepath/telekinetic mutant working for Aquarius, a megalithic corporate entity, in a world set somewhere in the dark future. Outside the sterile, nanotech-driven company (and others like it around the world), the cities are taken over by gangs of all sorts, organized by race, creed, gender, racial bias - you name it, there's a gang for it; barter and force has replaced civilised transactions; and in the dark parts of lower cities lair sun-sensitive, flesh-eating Morloks.

Billy, in addition to his mental powers, was born physically deficient - he possesses no arms or legs. He also has a simple mind, or at least so it seems. His best friend and mother-figure is Virgo, the AI for Aquarius, who not only runs the air filtration systems, elevators and security protocols, but also helps design and create Aquarius' products - which happen to be self-repairing, remotely controlled weapons. Aquarius seeks an edge on the market, a faster way to make human thoughts into the weeapons' actions...

Meanwhile in ancient Japan (no, really), a loyal samurai defends his lord from minions of a shapeshifting demon, who seeks to procure the lord's blade. It is rumoured that the sword is the only weapon able to destroy demonkind. After a brief flurry of bloody action the warrior succeeds and his master is saved...for now.

Finding out how these two stories intertwine (and they do, as the book hops viewpoints from Dark Future™ to Age of the Samurai™ repeatedly) I will leave up to the reader. But it will involve memory implantation, demonic possession, a confused love affair, cannibalism, swordfighting and utter chaos and destruction. In the end, nothing is what it appears to be, and the ending seems only a beginning.

The Art

The book's art is characterized by artwork that fluctuates from stylistic, sparse and powerful - combining bold strokes with panels accenting a single color blend (for example one panel may consist solely of shades of purple, the next one pure red, the next one pastel and washed out with one strong accent on it) - to busy, inelegant and cramped. It is no coincidence that the former style is used to illustrate images of strength, tradition and individualism and the latter claustrophobia, pollution, weakness and (often) despair. Or if you like, think of a juxtaposition of a traditional tori with the squirming, glistening Machine of the Matrix. Ronin does it flawlessly with technique, color, and other effects I don't even know names of but which undoubtedly have to do with perceived color warmth and saturation.

Concluding Thoughts

Ronin is a wistful tale of honor, love, bravery and revenge. The subtle humor and wry touches compound the characters' motives and behaviour, so that they really seem alive, with actual agendas and personalities. Nobody seems particularly larger than life, but as the protagonists strive to overcome what's thrown up against them they approach closer to the ideal. A good read to be sure, either for Miller fans or for curious readers who want to start with a standalone book rather than a series (Sin City).

liveforever has pointed out that the show Samurai Jack borrows rather heavily from Ronin's setup. After reading the w/u's at that node this appears to be quite correct.
belgand points out that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is perhaps more 'well-known' than Sin City; not having any DC Comics background myself, I am not sure this is true. At any rate, I have amended the first paragraph. As an aside, I am now reading the aforementioned book, and I recommend it even if you only have a vague idea of the Batman mythos.

Ro"nin" (?), n. [Jap. ronin, fr. Chin. lang profligate, lawless + jen (old sound nin) man.]

In Japan, under the feudal system, a samurai who had renounced his clan or who had been discharged or ostracized and had become a wanderer without a lord; an outcast; an outlaw.


© Webster 1913.

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