RUROUNI KENSHIN: Kyoto Inferno / The Legend Ends

rurouni-kenshin-kyoto-inferno-the-legend-ends

Both: 3 stars (out of 4)

Both: Released 2014 (in Japan)

These represent the second and third films in the trilogy and cover the Kyoto Arc. The first film came out in 2012.

Compared to the source manga, the narrative is much compressed and rearranged, as with the first Kenshin film. It works okay as a movie, but once again, some transitions don’t completely make sense if you think about them.

Most of the individual fights between various characters have been cut; a necessity, as the intricacies and meanings would have been difficult to convey in this medium. I do regret we didn’t get to properly see the battle at Aoi-ya, in which 2 or 3 of Shishio’s Juppongatana were defeated by “women and children,” namely Kaoru, Misao, and Yahiko.

That brings me to my primary complaint, which is still the weak characterization of Kaoru. My image of her is of an open-minded young lady who is also bossy, strong-willed, and courageous. She lives by her progressive ideals of forgiveness and protecting life, but it’s not to say that she is a childishly naïve pacifist, either. From the manga (and anime), I could understand how she would be a source of strength and inspiration for Kenshin, but here she seems like just a nice girl with a pretty face.

Sadly, Yahiko, and Shishio’s woman, Yumi also lost a good chunk of their personality in the transition to film.

Soujirou was so good, though. Ryunosuke Kamiki really got his character’s scary-polite killer-child nature down. Soujirou represents an extreme version of what Kenshin used to be, and I’m glad his scenes were well-depicted in the films.

The many action and sword-fighting scenes throughout were absolutely gorgeous and thrilling; honestly, those alone are enough to make these movies worth seeing. There’s a whole lot to like in this adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin and I’m happy I got to experience these live-action films on the big screen at long last.

RUROUNI KENSHIN

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2012 (in Japan)

Himura Kenshin was once a feared assassin during the Meiji restoration period of the 1860s. A decade later, he now carries a reversed-edge sword to prevent himself from killing again. In Edo, he meets Kamiya Kaoru, the impassioned head of a kenjutsu school which teaches swordsmanship for saving lives, rather than for taking them. The school’s idealistic philosophy appeals to Kenshin, who has vowed to atone for his previous sins by protecting others. However, it won’t be easy for Kenshin to just live a peaceful life. He has many enemies from his violent past, and they all want a piece of him!

Thanks to the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, I was finally able to see this live action adaptation of my all-time favourite manga series. Going in, I tried to keep my expectations low; 2-hour film adaptations of long-running series necessarily have to cut a ton of material, and often, the end result is an empty shell of the original story. Also, the trailers we had seen left us questioning whether Takei Emi had the acting ability to portray Kaoru properly.

Happily, I found the film to be very enjoyable; the many action sequences were spectacular and the important themes were left intact. In the end, I was fairly satisfied with Takei Emi’s performance as well, considering the material that she was given to work with, Kaoru’s role having been significantly underwritten for this adaptation.

There was never any doubt, on the other hand, that Sato Takeru was perfectly cast. True to expectation, he turned in a flawless performance in the lead role, capturing Kenshin’s strength, when forced to fight, and more restrained gentleness at other times.

The movie deconstructs about 4 of the early story arcs and combines parts of them back together into a mostly coherent plot. It worked well for me since I was already very familiar with the original manga and seeing the story told this way felt fresh.

Of course there are casualties: lots of good stuff was cut, not the least of which was that Kaoru and Yahiko didn’t get any chance to show their talents and both of them came off looking rather weak. And as a result of the narrative cutting and pasting, some parts of the movie don’t completely make sense if you stop to think about it. Fortunately, there’s so much going on and the action scenes are so intense, that you’re not really given an opportunity to dwell on the minor details.

Another quibble: I found the scenes with Kanryu and his gang to be a bit jarring compared to the rest of the film. They tended to be more goofball and play-like and the accompanying music was too exaggerated.

I think the director and screenwriter made the correct choices in what must have been a daunting task to create this film. I might sound like I’m unhappy with the ruthless edits that have been made, but that’s what the manga is for! All told, the movie succeeds at being entertaining the way it is and I would love to see it again. I believe it is a worthy addition to the franchise. So yes, despite my complaints, I am giving it 3.5 stars!