A live-action adaptation as exhilarating as any Samurai film, with enough sword play and fast-paced action to keep the most avid anime or manga fan happy…
Rurouni Kenshin (るろうに剣心) is a thrilling narrative with fantastically choreographed fight scenes, alongside Sato Naoki’s (Ryômaden, Carnation, K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces) mesmerizing mix of techno beats and a classical score that pierces with every strike of the blade! We are taken to 1868, on a Japanese battle field surrounded by death as we hear, ‘A new era has finally come’, the words of legendary assassin Hitokiri Battosai (Takeru Sato, Goemon, Rookies, Bloody Monday, Kamen Rider Den-O: The Movie) – shortly before he abandons his bloodstained weapon; only to hear the voice of Jin’e (Koji Kikkawa: Sunao ni narenakute), assassin number two, declaring, this fight isn’t over yet.
Ten years later; despite donning a cross-shaped scar upon his cheek, Battosai has now become the peaceful re-invented, Kenshin Himura carrying a sakabatō (逆刃刀, a reverse-blade sword) to remind him of his vow never to kill again. Kenshin’s new, stark yet quiet life as a wanderer is threatened when he comes across a wanted poster for his former self. Promptly propositioned by Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei, For Love’s Sake, Lair Game 2, W no higeki) seeking revenge for Battosai killing in the name of her late father’s Dojo, ‘Kasshin-ryu’. However, being accosted by a wooden sword (sword prohibition in the new age) becomes the least of Kenshin’s problems after the notorious drug lord Kanryuu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa, Serpent’s Path, Key Of Life, Penance, Tormented 3D, 20th Century Boys) discovers his true identity.
Due to this feature being based upon the popular manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki translating this extensive series on screen proved difficult, resulting in many sub-plots, flashbacks and an overly dense narrative. Luckily, writer Kiyaomi Fujji (Death Note: L Change the World, Take Five) and director Keishi Ontomo (Royomaden, Chursan, Jiro Shirasu: Man of Honour) make a good team when it comes to expressing story lines on screen; yet can leave you lusting for the throat slitting brilliance that are the sword fights. Although, it certainly feels like there is a balance of both plot driven scene and action sequence throughout, perhaps due to Ontomo’s history of success in TV drama.
After the idealistic ‘Miss Kaoru’s’ Dojo gets attacked by Takeda’s men, the shaken up Karou offers Kenshin to stay with her until she discovers that Megumi Takani (Yu Aoi, Hula Girls, Redline, Memories of Matsuko), the chemist behind this highly addicted Opium that Takeda wants, has already made herself at home – ensuring the Dojo to be an ideal target. As Jin’e promised this becomes a ruthless fight, ensuring that there can be no plausible end other than for Kenshin to break his vow.
The fast paced edit compliments the quick paced story. You are immediately engaged and involved as Kenshin takes on numerous opponents with pure skill and deft technique. In the comics, Kenshin is said to be using combinations or hybrid of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, an ancient form of Kenjutsu. All this he combines with his own, original and innovative sword technique. After watching the intense fight scenes, I wanted to pop out, grab a sword and find the nearest dojo for a quick session. I think my only real issue with this film would be the edit, which was periodically a tad fast. I, for one, would have appreciated rather more scenes being edited at a slower frame rate, to capture the martial arts in the classic anime/manga style. Having said all of this, the direction and camera angles really highlight the diversity of choreographed moves, portraying just how dedicated the entire cast were in studying and practising the moves for their role. Not forgetting Naoki’s creative and energetic soundtrack that makes Takuro Ishizaka’s (Sakuran, Lost in Translation) cinematography all the more effective.
When Takeru Sato was cast as Kenshin, being a fan of the widely popular comic, he really wanted to challenge himself in this role so he didn’t let any fans down, including himself. Taking into consideration how much time and practice that goes into executing precision sword movements perfectly and ultimately making them look aesthetically pleasing on camera. Evidently his work paid off. He looks the part, acts the part and is utterly credible with sword in hand. This dedication to the fight scenes is apparent throughout the rest of the cast. We see Emi Takei (Kaoru), Munatakaaoki Aoki (Sanosuke) and Koji Kikkawa (Jin’e) all fighting with confidence, adding yet more energy to this feature. Takeru, whilst throwing himself into the fighting aspects of his character, was also able to give a very likeable and charming performance through Kenshin’s development from the man who lives by the sword to the man carrying a back-bladed one. Not forgetting the outstanding acting of Teruyuki Kagawa, despite the hideous hairstyle and terrifying teeth of the merciless gangster, Takeda.
Upon release in summer 2012, the film was well received in its home country; Watsuki himself spoke very highly of the adaptation, praising the performances given by the entire cast. He described, in particular, Sato (Kenshin) and Koji Kikkawaw (Jin’e) as chillingly similar to his original characters. The first live-action adaption of the popular manga, it was so successful that it later became Japan’s 16th highest grossing film of 2012; resulting in two more films being commissioned. Provisionally named – Rurouni Kenshin: The Great Kyoto Fire Arc and The Last of a Legend Arc, the first sequel set to land in cinemas in 2014.
Rurouni Kenshin will be released in selected cinemas from Friday. It will be interesting to see just how the western world reacts to this very eastern tale of redemption but I am confident that I will not be the only one waiting for the next instalment.